May 2011

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As an acupuncturist, the most dreaded question someone might ask me is, “Why does acupuncture work?” The problem with this question is that we acupuncturists still really don’t know why it does. Most acupuncturists, when pressed for an answer, will simply explain that acupuncture returns balance to the body, and that it helps to restore the proper movement of energy throughout the body. So, I could do the same. I could go into a full explanation about the movement of the body’s energy (or “Qi”, pronounced chee) throughout the body, or I could explain the principles of yin and yang and how they relate to the body and disease. In short, I could easily explain why acupuncture works from a Traditional Oriental Medicine standpoint. However, most patients are interested in an explanation that involves, say, muscles, nerves, or organs.


So, here’s what we do know. We know that acupuncture somehow stimulates the immune system to remove inflammation from the body, and that it triggers the central nervous system to release endorphins that help to block pain and to elicit a euphoric effect. Research with brain imaging has also shown that specific parts of the brain are stimulated with the needling of different acupuncture points. For example, points pertaining to hearing or speaking will light up the parts of the brain that also pertain to those functions. Most recently, another research study has found a correlation between acupuncture and the molecule adenosine. Adenosine is known to inhibit pain, reduce inflammation, and regulate sleep in the body. In this study, adenosine was shown to increase by quantities of 24 times its normal level near an acupuncture point when a needle was inserted.


The problem is that, while this information does give us an idea as to how acupuncture works (meaning, it helps to explain what happens when a needle is placed in an acupuncture point), it still doesn’t really satisfy the question of why it works. It also leaves me wondering why a needle inserted into the skin can have such a profound effect not only on the tissues the needle is inserted into, but on the entire body. For example, I can very effectively treat insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders, asthma, and anxiety to name a few. These are very complicated disorders to treat by any means. So, until the big why is answered more effectively, I’ll have to simply be reassured that it does work, and really, isn’t that all that matters?


Read more about acupuncture research at the following links:


Eating Naturally

The best diet is a natural and balanced one. These days the word “natural” has become a catch phrase for many food and supply companies. It can mean any number of things, and it seems that each product that is presented as “natural” bends the word to their own convenient definition.

When considering the word natural and how it pertains to food, consider the sort of items that any person anywhere might recognize. For instance, fruits and vegetables, meats, grains, and dairy items are fairly recognizable to any person from any society or place on earth. These are the basis of all our foods, and what we are built to eat.

So, in general, when choosing foods, read the ingredient labels and consider each ingredient and whether or not it is commonly “recognizable.” If it isn’t, then the food you are considering is processed. The more unrecognizable ingredients it has, the more processed it is; the further away from natural it is.

Additionally, natural foods expire. They go bad. This even includes ingredients that you might use to cook with, like flour or oil. High quality whole grain flour or high grade oil should be kept in the refrigerator to keep them fresh and nutritious. Otherwise, these can begin to degrade without you even knowing.

A word about fat:

We must remember that fats are actually very important to our body. They help to keep our skin healthy and strong, and they are one of the major building materials for our brains. So, we need fats! The best fats are those that we eat either raw, or cooked as little as possible. For example, raw nuts and seeds are spectacular sources of fat. High fat fruits and vegetables are terrific as well– an example would be avocados. There’s a reason why they’re so delicious! The dairy group also contains very healthy fat.

Most dairy products are both pasteurized and homogenized. The process of pasteurization is the heating of raw fluids to the point where most potentially harmful bacteria have been destroyed. On the other hand, the purpose of homogenization is solely one of convenience and taste. Non-homogenized dairy fats separate,  which results in a layer of cream that rises to the top in milk and yogurt products. To alleviate this inconvenience, dairy companies homogenize their milk. Molecularly, dairy fats are composed of long chains of fatty acid molecules. When homogenized, these molecules get chopped up into smaller pieces that are more easily absorbed by the gut. Does this matter? Well, that is very debatable (and indeed, it is debated very frequently). Personally, I believe that we consume the foods we do for a reason. Over time, our bodies have adapted to consume foods the way that they are found naturally. So, I recommend not taking the chance. Drink milk the way it molecularly occurs naturally. Drink your milk pasteurized but non-homogenized.

The best way to moderate your intake of dairy fat (especially for reducing caloric intake when dieting) is to eat regular fat dairies, but in smaller amounts. Whole fat dairy isn’t bad– in this instance it just needs to be consumed conservatively. For example, whole fat yogurt is far healthier than most of those modified to be non-fat.  So, reduce the fat by serving your whole fat yogurt with a greater portion of fresh fruit– that way you can enjoy the taste and benefits of real yogurt responsibly.



Sciatica is the name for the symptom that many patients experience of burning, shooting pain following the pathway of the sciatic nerve, from the lower back to the buttocks and further down the outside of the legs and feet, sometimes all the way down to the little toe.

There tends to be a good deal of confusion and misunderstanding regarding the actual cause of sciatic pain. There are actually two entirely different syndromes that are implicated in Sciatica.

  • The first is a radiculopathy of the lumbar spine. A radiculopathy is an irritation of the nerve at the the nerve root, where it first emerges from the spine. Common causes are disc herniation, misalignment of the spine, and degenerative disc disease. Frequently, the affect of the radiculopathy can be worsened by tension of the muscles surrounding the spine.
  • The second syndrome that frequently leads to sciatica is far less easily diagnosed, and therefore more often overlooked. This is compression of the nerve further down its trajectory by muscles that the nerve runs through and next to. The most common muscle perpetrator is the piriformis muscle of the buttocks. In a significant portion of the population, the sciatic nerve actually runs directly through the piriformis muscle. In these people especially, tension or spasming of the muscle can lead to compression of the sciatic nerve, and thereby the associated sciatic pain.

Very frequently sciatica, even long standing sciatica, can be relatively easily addressed by acupuncture and a few simple exercises. The goal of treatment is to relax the stressed muscles that may be impacting the nerve, and remove inflammation from the nerve directly to reduce pain immediately. If the sciatica is caused by a radiculopathy, it will also be very important to strengthen the lower abdominal muscles to better support the back, and allow the muscles around the spine to loosen and relax.

Herbal medicine, topical ointments, kinesio taping, TENS therapy, cupping, and ultrasound therapy can also be effective adjunct therapies for treating sciatica.