Chinese medicine operates from the belief that the body possesses its own innate ability to heal, and that disease symptoms manifest when elemental energies are out of balance. When proper balance is restored, health is the natural result. Not long after I began to study Chinese medicine, I noticed a similarity between how human health is cultivated in this ancient system and how an organic gardener promotes health in plants.
Organic gardening uses natural methods to promote the plant’s powers of growth and healing. In a general sense, chemical gardening follows the approach to health used by Western medicine. An organic gardener ensures a plant reaches its full potential by making sure that the elemental energies the plant depends upon are in a relative state of balance. Temperature, moisture, ph and the gases and minerals in the soil must be in balance for the health and optimal functioning of the organism.
When trying to control a pest population in a garden, there are two ways to proceed. The organic gardener would make sure that the diversity of plants in the garden brought about the right balance of insects in order to control pest populations. They might introduce predatory insects that would feed off the bugs eating the plants without harming the plants themselves. They would also make sure that the soil was well balanced, so that the immunity of the plants is strong. Strong plants can fight off the pests on their own.
In another approach, the conventional gardener might spray the plants with chemicals to kill the pests. This may be effective in the short term, but does not ultimately solve the problem, because it does not address the reason the pest infestation arose in the first place. It may also cause other problems down the road. Modern medicine has such value, especially in emergency situations. But similar to chemical gardening, it can produce unwanted side effects, and does not always deal with the underlying causes of disease.
You may be asked questions by your Chinese medicine practitioner that seem entirely unrelated to the reason you are seeking treatment. Questions like “Do you have an intolerance for cold weather, or get cold hands and feet”? “Do you get hot flashes, or sweating at night”? We ask these questions because every symptom in Chinese medicine is understood in a larger context. Your answers to these questions help us understand how to treat your back pain or your headaches. Chances are that your treatment will be very different from another person’s treatment even if they have very similar complaints.
We look at the environment in which you are growing and try to help you adjust your internal and external influences so that you can be stronger and more resistant to disease. Much like an organic gardener, we hope to support your own natural healing power by bringing all the elements into balance.
–Jesse Andreas, L.Ac.
This week we bid farewell to Amira Glaser, L.Ac. Amira was gracious enough to help us keep our Greensboro Monday night community clinic available to patients this summer, but now she is returning to her private practice in Carrboro. We are so appreciative of her ability to join our team so seamlessly, and to share her considerable skills. She is truly a gifted practitioner. We wish her all the best! Amira can be reached at email@example.com.
At the same time, we welcome our newest practitioner, Jesse Andreas, L.Ac. Jesse will take over the Monday night community clinic as well as see private patients by appointment. Jesse graduated from Southwest Acupuncture College in 2014, studying under several of the same teachers as Diane Gross, L.Ac.
From a young age, Jesse had a profound appreciation for eastern philosophy, exploring Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. He studied Chinese martial arts as a child and was fascinated with the concept of Qi and its capacity to improve health and treat disease. While still in his twenties, Jesse cured himself of a number of chronic diseases using acupuncture and herbal medicine, as well as diet and lifestyle modifications. This led to years of study of natural healing methods, both in and out of school, as he realized this was to be a lifelong calling.
Jesse feels there is no greater way to serve other people than to help them restore their health. He specializes in treating pain, anxiety/depression, digestive issues, men’s and women’s health, and is particularly skilled in treating more complex and challenging medical cases. “My belief is that anyone can be well, and no one should feel hopeless.”
We are excited to welcome Jesse to Stillpoint. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Greensboro office at 336-510-2029 to schedule an appointment.
By now, most people know that acupuncture has been shown to work as well or better than conventional medicine for things like back pain and osteoarthritis of the knee. Many people have even heard about using Chinese Medicine to improve fertility. However, I am still surprised to find folks who have no idea of the depth and breadth of conditions and ailments that can be helped by Chinese Medicine.
Chinese Medicine is a complete system of medicine in the sense that it defines an internally consistent understanding of physiology (how the body works), patho-physiology (what can go wrong with the body), diagnosis (how to figure out what’s wrong) and treatment (how to fix what’s wrong). Although the language of Chinese Medicine is strange and often sounds frankly ridiculous, the concepts behind that language can be both simple and profound. It is this broad metaphoric language which accounts for the ability of Chinese Medicine to treat many issues that conventional medicine doesn’t manage as well. This descriptive language allows the practitioner of Chinese Medicine to understand a patient’s complaint at a level deeper than a lab test or an MRI would reveal. Because of this, Chinese Medicine can be very helpful in treating complaints that are vague and difficult to nail down from a conventional medicine standpoint. The following are a few examples of this:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):
IBS is a term used to describe several different digestive symptoms which could include abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. While there are some medications that can manage the symptoms of IBS, they are not considered curative, and come with the risks of side effects. From the perspective of Chinese Medicine the symptoms that categorize IBS can be grouped into very specific diagnostic categories and therefore treated specifically as well. For example, one IBS patient who has alternating loose stools and constipation that is worse with stress, accompanied by TMJ, poor appetite, PMS, depression and insomnia might be diagnosed with something we call Liver overacting on Spleen. However, another patient might have predominantly loose stools and urgency. His symptoms might be exacerbated after eating rich or spicy foods, making it difficult to go out to eat with friends. His diagnosis might be called Damp Heat in the Intestines. Both of these patients would receive different acupuncture treatments and different herbal formulas. In my experience, once we determine the correct diagnosis, IBS is often cured or improved to such a level that it becomes only a minor distraction.
For some women, the cessation of menstrual cycles is no big deal. For others, they become overwhelmed with a cascade of symptoms that disrupt daily functioning. Hot flashes, anxiety, and insomnia can combine to make a woman feel as though she is losing her mind. With the controversy surrounding hormone replacement, Chinese Medicine offers a safe and usually effective alternative treatment. Of course Chinese Medicine may not solve the problem overnight, but over 1-2 months, most women find their symptoms have become very manageable. Again, each woman is assessed individually and acupuncture, herbs, diet and lifestyle suggestions are all tailored to her particular situation.
Emotional Issues / Stress:
Chinese Medicine is truly a holistic medicine. In fact, there is very little differentiation in Chinese Medical Theory between physical and emotional problems. When reading about a particular diagnostic category, for example, you might see “poor appetite, fatigue, bruises easily, shortness of breath, depressed mood.” When treating folks for any emotional upset, I am always interested in what kinds of physical issues they have, as that helps me determine how to diagnose the depression, anxiety, ADHD or mania appropriately. Studies have shown acupuncture to be as effective as anti-depressants in treating moderate depression. Acupuncture can have a profound effect on reducing mental stress. Often after only one visit, people say things like, “I just don’t react to the little things like I used to.”
Modern medicine is still working on exactly what causes this painful and debilitating illness. While curative treatment may very well be on the horizon, treatments often involve experimentation with many different pharmaceuticals. Acupuncture has been shown to be especially helpful in lessening the pain of fibromyalgia. It can also help treat the fatigue and memory problems that sometimes accompany the disease.
In each of the above cases, different patients will exhibit different signs and symptoms, and will therefore require different treatment strategies. There is no “one size fits all” in Chinese Medicine. That individualized therapy is what makes Chinese Medicine so fascinating. Diagnosis and treatment can be profoundly simple or mind-bendingly complex. We practitioners don’t always get it right the first time. But when we do, this medicine appears to work miracles.
Coping with Allergy Season…
by Heather McIver, L.Ac.
When I moved back to NC from attending acupuncture school in Colorado, I was shocked to find that I could no longer function from about Mother’s Day until mid June. If I tried to venture outside I was immediately struck with drippy nose and eyes so red, swollen and itchy I wanted to pay someone to rip them out of my head. Apparently, I had developed an allergy to hay…and lucky me, I lived on a hay farm. So, after trying a couple of the standard Chinese “allergy” formulas with only minimual success, I broke down and took the big guns. I tried Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra. They all made me sleepy and none of them controlled my symptoms enough that I could even hold a conversation. I remember being so mad! “I finally take that stuff and then it didn’t even work!”
There was nothing to do but to go back to my training. I sat down and re-assessed my symptoms from the perspective of Chinese Medicine. I tried to think as simplistically as possible. It was springtime and spring is associated with the Liver in Chinese medicine. My primary symptom was my red, itchy eyes. The eyes are also associated with the Liver. I was really irritated and frustrated…also Liver. The “standard” allergy formulas focus more on the Lung and Spleen, so maybe that’s why they weren’t helping. Of course the Lung was also affected…my drippy nose and constant sneezing could attest to that. However, there is a diagnosis in Chinese Medicine called, “Liver overacting on the Lung” in which you can see both Liver and Lung symptoms.
Seemed a good place to start. So I started with a very common Liver formula called, “Free and Easy Wanderer” Then I added herbs to dry up my congestion and herbs to specifically target my red, itchy eyes. And guess what? It began to work instantly. Over the next few days, I added and subtracted herbs to further focus the effects of the formula. Within a week or two, I was fully functional. I wasn’t ready to go running through the hay fields, but I could walk outside and do my job and have fun with friends again.
The point of this story, is not really about my allergies, but rather to illustrate the importance of the individual diagnosis. In some of my patients, the “standard” allergy formulas work beautifully. But that is because their pattern of symptoms, their “diagnosis,” match the diagnosis that the formula was designed to treat.
Just as in the research study described in the sidebar, while standard protocols can be helpful for a lot of people, they treat only the middle of the bell curve. To really get at the root of an individual’s problem, we need to actuallly look at the individual. We need to define exactly how a particular body is becoming out of balance, in order to restore balance.
There is a saying in Chinese Medicine, “Same disease, many treatments. Different disease, same treatment.” This is precisely why 4 different patients with infertility may receive radically different treatments. Or why the formula I used to treat my allergies might also be used to treat PMS or hepatitis. In my mind, this is what separates Chinese Medicine from other modalities. Of course, comprehensive individualized diagnosis is much harder than treating everyone the same. It takes more investigation, more observation, more discernment and more trial and error. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes Chinese Medicine alone is simply not powerful enough. But sometimes, when we get it right, this medicine can produce quick and amazing results. And this is why I love my job!