A Quick Survey: the Results!

I had made a quick survey and am posting the results here. Thank you to all who participated!


Thank you for taking a short survey (8 questions) about Chinese medicine. Understanding more about what people want to hear about helps acupuncturists focus our attention on providing you information that is most relevant to your interests. Help us serve you better! 

Least Interested
Most Interested



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* Question text is cut off in this auto-generated chart, so I’m including the full copy here:
What is your interest level in learning more about the growth of Chinese medicine in the US and the integration of Chinese and Western medicine as seen by its inclusion of hospitals, medical groups, insurance acceptance, etc? 
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Optional Question: Please let us know if there is a specific condition for which you’d want to hear how acupuncture treats, it’s approach and effectiveness.
Was this survey too long and is there anything else you’d like to share?

Chinese Herbs

Differential Diagnosis in Chinese / Asian Medicine: 

As acupuncturists / herbalists, we sometimes hear people say things like, “I’ve heard this particular herb helps [some condition]. Should I take it?” and so starts a conversation about how Chinese medicine works. 

One thing to consider is that Chinese Medicine doesn’t tend to use herbs singularly. They’re often combined with other herbs to create custom formulas based on the individual presentation of the patient. These formulas may be modifications of base formulas and there are many, many options here. It’s sort of like being a cook in the kitchen deciding whether your chicken preparation will be based predominantly by flavors in a curry, a basil-cream, lemon-tarragon, or whatever sauce. The options are endless. 

There are advantages of using multiple herbs over singular herbs. An herb in a formula may be considered a primary herb in the formula and be called its Chief. We might use herbs that reduce or increase the effects of other herbs making them stronger or weaker in the formula, depending on what we’re looking to achieve. We may have Deputy, Assistant – Envoy herbs depending on the function of a particular herb, or group of herbs, in the formula.

A formula that works wonders for one patient may not be effective for another patient with the same condition.

This is because in Chinese medicine, we look at varying patterns present in a person, ascertain Chinese medical diagnoses that represent those patterns, and recommend herbs, acupuncture, or other modalities/procedures based on those working (and changing) diagnoses. 

Let’s consider an example. A patient comes in with a request for herbs and acupuncture to help resolve previously diagnosed eczema. The practitioner will take a look at the patient’s primary concern and consider common Chinese diagnoses that those with eczema may have, ask broad questions to consider other patterns of disharmony, come up with a working Chinese medical diagnosis or diagnoses, and make treatment recommendations based on the diagnoses. Please note that diagnoses change over time as do individual practitioner approaches to treatment. 

It’s not uncommon for a patient to seek treatment for one particular health concern, but have other health issues. For example, someone’s little toe is bothering them every time they walk and so they may be looking for support in this one area. An herbalist building a custom formula will take into consideration whether that person has ample digestive strength to tolerate an herb formula, if they sleep poorly, are in a high stress environment, etc. Herbs will be added or removed from base formulas to accommodate the individual presentation of the person seeking remedy.

We choose treatments based on the constellation of multiple patterns of disharmony present and we change the formula as that constellation changes. 

So here’s the thing: this is also true for acupuncture. The practice of acupuncture includes individual or combinations of points. There are countless approaches to point selection. The practitioner may select points based on their unique studies under specific teachers who may have their own stylistic approaches.

The medicine is old, but it’s not stagnant and evolves over time. The options are also endless.

I’m always saying to people that when choosing an acupuncturist, ask them questions about how they approach treatment, what kinds of studies they undertake (we keep studying long after school), and look to see if you resonate with the conversation and approach. Be open to new ideas but understand that if one practitioner doesn’t “fit” with you, there’s many more in practice who may have a style that feels better to you. 

A short herb story…



One time traveling, a nice thing happened in regards to Chinese herbs. I met other travelers along the way and all of us were trying to avoid local drinking water since our bodies weren’t used to it and we certainly didn’t want the experience of diarrhea, abdominal spasms, and pain. 

Over lunch one day, it came up in a conversation and most the travelers were saying they had at least a bit of diarrhea or abdominal discomfort. We had been eating together for a few days and it was asked why nearly all at the table had symptoms but I did not. They asked if I was taking something. I was. A single Chinese herb taken at a prophylactic dose of one small tablet daily. 

I’m not sure if that’s why I didn’t share their symptoms, but I thought it might be.

[ Thank you for the use of free clip art! http://www.clipartpanda.com/clipart_images/abdominal-pain-clipart-1-59922934 ]

Acupuncture Anesthesia / Analgesia in Surgery

In 2002, I was part of a delegation that traveled to Cuba (on a license through Global Exchange) to attend a medical conference and associated events. It was an incredible trip! Here are some photos from a carpal tunnel surgery at the hospital where acupuncture was used, as well as photos from the conference itself. I included a photo of myself because I was so excited to be able to attend the surgery and witness this with my own eyes, something evident in the photo.

The surgery as I remember it: A needle was inserted deep into the axilla (armpit) with electrical stimulation for approximately 20minutes. When the patient reported numbness down her extremity, a local anesthetic was injected at the surgical site (her wrist) to further produce numbness. There was a drape hung so that the patient would not see the surgery itself. As far as I know she was not given any oral sedatives: she was alert, calm, and able to respond to physician questions. As the doctor performed surgery, he would ask questions to the patient such as, “please move your index finger” and the patient, non-drowsy and fully awake, would do so with ease. There was an explanation provided that being able to communicate well with the patient helped the surgeon because he could confirm which tendons he was working with, which of course was useful since he was about to surgically cut one. After the surgery, the patient was calm, happy, and shared a beautiful smile with us. No stress.

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Here’s a 2016 video about acupuncture anesthesia in the US: http://www.cctv-america.com/2016/02/07/us-patients-offered-acupuncture-as-anesthesia-alternative


Acupuncture in Pregnancy


Recently I ran into a patient who I had worked with across two pregnancies. It brought so much joy to see her out with her baby. While chatting, she told me how acupuncture helped her through each of her pregnancies. I love that!

I really enjoy working with pregnant women. It’s such a special time in life and I feel lucky to be able to offer something tangible that may help them through this time of great transition. 

Women’s bodies are going through so much change during pregnancy and I find, anecdotally from my own clinical experience, that their bodies are often more sensitive and receptive to the gentle art of acupuncture. During gestation, we give careful consideration to both the mother and fetus so as to nurture and support the process. 

Pregnant women are often particularly careful about what they consume and receive advice from their doctors about which over the counter and prescription medicines are safe while pregnant. Knowing that acupuncture can be safe and effective offers another treatment option where other options may not be advised. 

Another thing with pregnancy is that underneath the exterior of a what a blessed time this is, is perhaps a woman with stress.

Questions about readiness and change, possibly coupled with low energy, diminished sleep, appetite changes (to name a few) are often occurring simultaneously as they continue with regular responsibilities of work and/or childcare, making plans for changes in the future, re-shaping their homes, etc. It’s a lot! Getting acupuncture is a quiet time and allows them a place to rest and receive support. Patients often tell me they feel better coming in. 

Here is a partial list of general conditions common to pregnant women that I’ve worked with and found acupuncture to be helpful:


Musculoskeletal aches and pains


Nausea and/or vomiting




As we move towards greater integration of conventional / Western care and treatment with other complementary modalities (such as acupuncture), I hope we’ll see more studies on the safety and efficacy of acupuncture as part of a potential treatment plan for those with risk of pre-eclampsia (PE), gestational diabetes, and other riskier pregnancies. We’ll see… 

In the meantime, here are some links to scientific evidence around acupuncture and pregnancy: 

Debra Betts’ robust website with links to research for pelvic pain, nausea, breech presentation, prebirth, cervical ripening, and depression in pregnancy. Here’s the link to pain relief in labor: http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupuncture/research/reducing-labour-pain/

Nei-Guan point acupressure is a useful treatment for relieving symptoms experienced by women with hyperemesis gravidarum.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17645494

There is high-quality evidence reporting the benefits of herbal medicines and acupuncture to treat nausea in pregnancy.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26866600

In women’s health, acupuncture has been found to be beneficial for patients with premenstrual syndrome, dysmenorrhea, several pregnancy-related conditions, and nausea in females who have cancers.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18803496

[This study was designed to check for a different condition, but also said the following.] Good clinical evidence has been reported for the effect of PC6 acupuncture in preventing or attenuating postoperative and pregnancy related nausea.”  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18356796

[Fourth year medical students in London can take a course in Chinese Medicine. Here’s an essay on migraine + acupuncture + pregnancy.] “…acupuncture for migraine relief has been recommended by NICE as a non-pharmacological measure for migraine headaches(59). Since acupuncture has the potential to relieve migraine pain without the added fear of teratogenicity, it may be a useful alternative or adjunct for analgesic medications given in pregnancy.” http://www.cmir.org.uk/kcl-ssc-student-submissions

“Given the high prevalence of nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy, women and health professionals need clear guidance about effective and safe interventions, based on systematically reviewed evidence. There is a lack of high-quality evidence to support any particular intervention. This is not the same as saying that the interventions studied are ineffective, but that there is insufficient strong evidence for any one intervention. The difficulties in interpreting and pooling the results of the studies included in this review highlight the need for specific, consistent and clearly justified outcomes and approaches to measurement in research studies.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26348534

The summarized findings indicated a small but growing body of acupuncture research, with some evidence suggesting a benefit from acupuncture to treat nausea in pregnancy. Findings from the review also highlighted promising evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture to manage back and pelvic pain, acupuncture-type interventions to induce change in breech presentation, and pain relief in labor. The methodological quality of recent trials has improved, and the quality of systematic reviews was high. CONCLUSIONS: Interest is growing in the use of acupuncture to treat some complaints during pregnancy and childbirth, and evidence is beginning to consolidate that acupuncture may assist with the management of some complaints during pregnancy. However, definitive conclusions about its effectiveness cannot be reached and further research is justified.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19747272

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Headaches / Migraines



From the Washington Post,  an account of treating migraines well with acupuncture,

“A month into my treatment, after eight sessions, I noticed that my migraines had begun to slow down in frequency and weaken in intensity. At the end of two months, I felt strong enough to scale my appointments down to once a week. Five months after I started acupuncture, I felt essentially cured. I rarely got the drowsy fog of fatigue — and if I did, it almost always went away on its own. I could work on my computer and spend time on the beach, and I was able to drink wine again. It has now been five years since I discovered acupuncture. I still occasionally get migraines, and if they seem to be amping up, I’ll use acupuncture, even a couple of times a week. But there have been months when I don’t need it at all.”


I’d like to add a couple notes:

  1. Please notice that the patient really tried acupuncture. She didn’t just come once or twice but having noticed that she was trending well after a round of eight treatments, she continued on for further benefits.
  2. It’s not often that I’ll quote WebMD for acupuncture because quite frankly, I don’t always see them mention acupuncture as a viable treatment option for conditions that I’ve seen treated first-hand with acupuncture. But times may be a’changing and headaches are commonly treated by acupuncture so here you go, titled “Acupuncture May Be Effective for Migraines” at http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/news/20120112/acupuncture-may-be-effective-for-migraines — Here’s a quote from the article, “Three months after treatment, people who received traditional Chinese acupuncture continued to report a reduction in migraine days, frequency, and intensity.” There was also this gem, “Another study of nearly 800 people showed that 11 acupuncture treatments over six weeks were at least as effective as the blood pressure drugs called beta-blockers — often used for migraine prevention — taken daily for six months, Molsberger tells WebMD.”
  3. An essay exploring acupuncture for migraines (particularly in pregnant women) from a 4th year medical student in London: “acupuncture for migraine relief has been recommended by NICE…Since acupuncture has the potential to relieve migraine pain without the added fear of teratogenicity…necessary to carry out further research on the effects of acupuncture on those who are pregnant.” http://www.cmir.org.uk/kcl-ssc-student-submissions
  4. Here’s a nice link about tension-type headaches from Cochrane last month: http://www.cochrane.org/CD007587/SYMPT_acupuncture-tension-type-headache — First line, “The available evidence suggests that a course of acupuncture consisting of at least six treatment sessions can be a valuable option for people with frequent tension-type headache.” This was a review of 12 trials with 2,349 adults!

I hope more people suffering from headaches will consider acupuncture!


** Image on this page released under Creative Commons CCO. See https://pixabay.com for more info or to download images you like. Yay!