Archive for November, 2009

You know how the ancient Chinese came up with yin, yang, 5 element theory, and all that? They took observations from the world and adapted it to the human body. We can do that, too.

There are over 4,000 miles of pipes under Dallas, with diameters from 2″ to 5′. Sometimes people pour grease down the sink or something and are lucky enough that it flushes out of their personal plumbing. Then it sticks to a pipe farther on down the line, which gets clogged and bursts from the pressure backed up in it, and it’s a big mess.

There are over 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body. The diameters range from 8 μm to an inch. Sometimes stuff sticks to the sides of the vessels, and blood can’t get through, and it’s a big mess. Without blood, there is no exchange of oxygen and waste products, and without oxygen, tissue dies. Which is pretty darn bad if that tissue is brain or heart. Still not impressed? There’s a lot of blood vessels in your junk. Yeah, I said it; general health has everything to do with sexual function.

For both of these systems, the primary thing is to not dump in stuff that clogs it. That would be saturated fats (though in the case of the city pipes, the liquid stuff has to be processed out of the wastewater, too, not a cheap or easy prospect), which are solid at room temperature. Don’t cook? Read labels.

The human body has some other factors to consider. It is always going to have some fat in its composition. Some conditions, like diabetes, obesity, low activity, and hypertension, are going to make the body more likely to have fat fall out of the blood and onto the arterial walls. This is why you should get regular exercise, not smoke, and eat a balanced diet.

Ever take Organic Chemistry? Ochem labs are all about isolating stuff and weighing your product. One time we had to isolate cholesterol. And we forgot to weigh the empty test tube. We were running out of time, and I was running out of steam; scrubbing with soap and hot water was not getting that tube clean. The TA suggested ethanol. One little splash, and that tube was empty! So, I am a firm believer in having a little drink now and then to benefit your heart. Thing is, though, the human body isn’t made of lab glassware, and there is still going to be liver damage and stuff if it needs to process too much alcohol. The guidelines are 1-2 drinks daily for men, and 1 for women.

Smokers have a great habit that more people need to learn. No, not smoking. Breaks. It’s not just about feeding an addiction; we have short attention spans and are more productive in increments. More on breaktime at Work Awesome.

So, the ethnicity thing, it comes up every so often. I imagine it would be very reassuring for my patients to know that I’ve been steeped in mysticism since birth and that my family has been one of healers for countless generations. Be assured that my license is current, I am very good at what I do, and if I don’t think I can help you, I won’t bother to schedule an appointment. However, I am an American girl from Alabama, and when I announced that I was going to acupuncture school, my parents would have grounded me, had I still been a minor. I haven’t been “back” to The Orient, though I did spend the summer after college in a telecomm internship in Taejon. (See yesterday’s for why engineering and acupuncture actually are a fine fit.) Be glad I grew up here; my training was in English.

It is important to find a competent practitioner with whom you feel comfortable. This can be a difficult task. Some people base competence on tradition, ethnicity, if they trained overseas, or if the practitioner is on their insurance provider list. Hopefully that’s not all they base it on. Now, the insurance thing I’ll give you; there’s no denying cost counts. But in my universe, how much bottom line is a more important number than what percent. I do try to price fairly.

So, having established the fallacy of Oriental (sic) acupuncturists being inherently superior, what are some good criteria?

I go with safety first. (Gender neutral masculine pronouns to follow.) Is he licensed in your state? You can usually look this up on the medical board website, which should also list any suspensions or disciplinary actions. Does he have diplomate status with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine? Are the needles single-use, sterile, and sealed? Is there a sharps container securely in the treatment room? Does the office feel clean and safe?

Then there is the convenience factor. If you live an hour’s drive away, chances are, you won’t manage to come in as often as will benefit you. If I know someone in your area, I am happy to refer you. More likely, I’ll point you to a website with a zipcode search function, like NCCAOM or acufinder.

Last to mention but not in importance, the guts of it, personal and professional compatibility. Does he make you feel comfortable? Does he treat you with respect? Answer your questions? Listen well? Manage your time well? Is it working? Is he willing to refer you to someone else if it’s not? I have no doubt that someone who has 20 years of experience is likely a more competent practitioner than I am, but he may not be a better fit for you. Sometimes all the practitioner needs is “Where does it hurt?” but often, communication is very important. It’s another thing I’m always striving to improve. How am I doing?

I’m trying to write something every day this month as an unofficial attempt at nablopomo, and I’m already not sure what to write about. What do you want to read about?

We’re all always still learning, and I do well in a classroom setting. Two weekends ago I had a refresher class in Dr. Tan’s Balance Method. Dr. Tan has a clinic in San Diego and lectures all around the world. He grew up with traditional medicine, but he had to go to school here for certification purposes. He also studied engineering.

Now, a lot of times when acupuncture points are chosen, it’s because they are local to pain or because the book says it’s good for that. There are lots of systems of how to select points, but Dr. Tan’s makes sense, usually works, and usually works fast.

There are meridians of qi or life energy all through the body. They are distinct from blood and nerves, though many points are near vessels or nerves. When something hurts, we can localize it to a meridian being imbalanced. To restore balance, we have to adjust the other side of the scale, in other words, needle a corresponding meridian.

The trigrams of the i-ching are composed of solid or broken lines, representing yin or yang. Dr. Tan observes that this is binary, the way computers represent everything by sequences of zeroes and ones. A lot can be represented in this method, and we are able to create a digital representation of the body by assigning different trigrams to different elements, and therefore to different meridians. Which might not make much sense to the layperson, but if you’ve studied any theory of traditional Chinese medicine, the way Dr. Tan lays it out makes you go, “Ohhh, I get it now.”

Like I said, there are many different systems of selecting treatment points, but this is the first one I’ve learned where the teacher expects my patient to feel noticeably better within seconds. It never gets old to have a frozen shoulder patient raise the arm all the way. It’s not always the system I use, but if you can tell me exactly where it hurts, I can usually find exactly what will make it feel better.

Things tend to come in cycles. Yeah, punny! Anyway, I have weeks where almost everybody has the same thing; I’ll get like 5 back pains in a row, and the next week everybody has digestive upset, and the week after that everybody’s neck hurts.

Lately, there is a fair amount of lower back pain (but when is there not?), and I have been getting a lot of calls about people wanting to get pregnant. I’m sure there are studies about uterine bloodflow and conception rates with acupuncture, but I figure y’all have google. So, what is it that I do?

Well, first I rule stuff out. A lot about my job is not entirely explicable by modern science, but I don’t believe in miracles. If diagnostic tests have been done and the sperm count is low, for example, I’m not particularly interested in just seeing the woman. If the fallopian tubes are pretty scarred, my expectations are low enough that I would advise going straight to IVF. And little details like boxers vs. briefs, use of hot tubs, or laptop computers held directly on the lap. Nobody thinks of that last one, but to encourage conception, don’t defeat anatomical design by roasting the external gonads!

Then I look at general health. Does either partner have a condition that needs management? If there is no diagnosed disease or syndrome, do Chinese diagnostics determine stagnations or deficiencies? Common syndromes are Liver qi stagnation, Spleen qi deficiency, and Kidney deficiency. I’ll very briefly define these.

In TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), Kidney is the system involved with reproduction. A doctor friend tells me that in the embryonic development, the kidneys and reproductive organs develop together, so it’s not completely divergent from modern medicine. The Kidneys store the essence we receive from our parents, and as we live and age, the Kidney system runs down, faster, if the lifestyle is overworked, overpartied, or otherwise unhealthy. Kidney deficiency is a usual suspect in infertility cases and is often addressed with herbs.

Nearly everyone in the modern world has either/or/some combination of Liver qi stagnation and Spleen qi deficiency. Each organ system has an associated emotion, element, bodily substance, function, etc. The emotion of Liver is anger, i.e. stress, and the emotion of Spleen is worry.

The Liver (according to TCM) is involved in blood storage and smooth flow of qi. It is heavily involved in menstrual and emotional disorders. Which is to say they knew stress affected conception thousands of years ago! Liver disorders also tend to invade upon the Spleen system. Timing of treating stagnation is important, since pregnancy is a functional stagnation.

The Spleen has a digestive system role in TCM. It is in charge of transporting and transforming food and fluids into muscle and energy.  Spleen controls blood and holds everything in place, including the fetus.

So, am I treating infertility? Sort of. When I’m treating a specific area of pain, I am treating a localized meridian imbalance. When I am treating other symptoms, I am trying to re-establish a systemic balance. In my mind, I am less treating infertility than I am trying to correct a stagnation or tonify a deficiency, which is what I would be doing if the chief complaint was any other thing than infertility.

Pain is an acupuncturist’s bread and butter, because progress of pain management is generally pretty easy to track. Pregnancy is a binary condition; you are or you aren’t. It’s something with a fairly limited window to change, as well. With or without assistance, it may take a month, it may take a year. Acupuncture can certainly help temporarily with relaxation, but if you are really looking to affect fertility, it will do the most good on a regular basis. Take time for acupuncture, take time for sleep, regular meals, general well being, and (this should be a no brainer) take time for baby-making! Some of y’all almost seem too busy to get busy!


My latest thing is hula hoop class, and it’s really fun! I had been looking for a good core workout, and this may fit the bill. I hate doing sit-ups like you don’t even know, though I did manage to complete the two hundred. A few months ago. And I don’t think I’ve done a sit-up since. Finding a wide open space has motivated me to go to the gym better than the elliptical, and an hour of hooping does work up a sweat!

If you suffer from headaches, one of a few things that could help is developing your core muscles. Also, if you get acne on the lower half of your face, have TMJ problems or back pain, notice if you find yourself adopting The Thinker pose. When your core muscles aren’t strong enough to hold you upright, you end up propping up you head in/on your hand. This puts a lot of pressure in your jaw, where it is not supposed to be. Holding any position for a long time is going to cause discomfort, but this one has a few telltale signs and is a really easy one to make into a bad habit.

Exercise is an essential habit to get into, anyway. Might as well make it fun.

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