I’m adding my voice to the many stories that women are sharing. I’m not sure if this is the “right” avenue to share. I’m not sure if my story is important. I’m not sure if anyone will read it. But here it is.
Me too. Like so many—too many, maybe most, maybe all—the women I know, I have experienced sexual harassment, and count myself lucky that it wasn’t worse. It’s sad that I consider that lucky.
I’ll tell the story because though I really rarely think about this incident, I’ve counted it as a lesson learned and it’s coloured the way I think. It’s also something that I’ve not shared with many because I’ve felt guilt over it. “I should have been more careful.” “I should have known better.” “I should have been smarter.”
I was in my 20s, recently returned from living for two years in Japan. I think that’s part of the reason why this happened to me (see, there I go again, taking the blame). You see, I remember the warnings all throughout my time in university. As women, we are warned against walking home alone at night. We are told not to leave a friend alone at a party. We are reminded not to accept a drink from a stranger. We look out for each other because we are told it’s a dangerous world where there are men who will hurt us, take advantage of us, attack us, rape us.
Little kids learn about “stranger danger.” While boys get to grow into men who no longer have this worry, women continue to receive this lesson. Even worse is that many women have to add to that list of dangerous people with men they know, not just strangers—dates, boyfriends, husbands, coworkers, friends.
But after university I moved to Japan. Everyone was new to me. Everyone was a stranger. And I felt so safe. I walked alone late at night. I cycled home by myself in the dark. I slept in a train station so I could catch the first train out. I received help from strangers when I was lost, following them to my requested destination. I stood out as a “gaijin” (foreigner), so while Japanese women were harassed by Japanese men, I was left alone. I won’t get into my thoughts on the psychology of that here, but basically, I felt safe. Powerful, even.
Not long after I returned to Canada, I went to Toronto to visit family and friends. When the flight landed late at night, I didn’t want to pay for a hotel, so I decided to just hang out at the airport and then catch a train early the next morning. I went to the cafeteria and one of the serving staff struck up a conversation with me. He seemed very nice.
After a while, he offered to drive me to the train station. At first, I said no, but then thinking about the hassle of making my way there, and thinking he seemed harmless, I said yes.
Now, I don’t know the route between the airport and train station, but after a bit of driving, I started to question my decision. When he pulled into a park and stopped the car, I knew—I was in trouble.
I began circulating various options through my mind. I could jump out of the car and make a run for it, leaving my luggage behind in his car. I could scream, though I could see no one nearby. I could try punching him. I tried psychology. As he tried to persuade me, to guilt me, to seduce me, to make me fearful, I kept him talking, countering everything he said with something logical, something demeaning, something pitiful, something angry.
I threatened him. I chastised him. I told him that I know where he works and I would get him fired. I promised to say nothing if he simply drove me back to the airport. That’s what happened. And I said nothing.
Now I wonder.
And I feel guilty. What if someone else was less lucky?
So, I understand the courage of these women coming forward now. I’m lucky. I got away, nothing happened except for a lesson. Don’t trust. Be careful.
And believe the women who are telling their stories. It may have taken them a long time. But they have their own reasons. And now it’s time for us to stop this from continuing, by being vocal and letting others know that it’s not acceptable.
Goji berries are not a food I would normally consider local. Grown mostly in China, goji berries are a challenge to grow in Canada. That’s why so few places do. But, fortunate for us, there is one farm in the Lower Mainland amongst that short list, and this week I visited them.
Why should I care about goji berries?
Well, you don’t have to. But if you’re interested in healthy food options and like to try different foods, why not? After all, goji berries have many health benefits.
- They are rich in antioxidants–i.e. cell protectants that help prevent cancer, fight disease, and manage inflammation.
- They are a good source of fibre. Fibre helps stabilize your blood sugar (Traditional Chinese Medicine has long used goji to help manage diabetes), helps you feel full, and supports healthy bowel movements, all of which can help with healthy weight management.
- They contain more protein than most berries.
- Ounce for ounce, goji berries have more iron than spinach! In TCM they are classified as a Blood Tonic.
- TCM has long used goji–except that we call them gou qi zi–for supporting healthy vision, and research supports this.
- Gojis may increase men’s testosterone levels and improve sperm count and motility, so it’s no surprise that in TCM, goji are sometimes used to address men’s sexual health.
- For women, goji berries may also boost fertility by helping with ovulation.
- Goji are also popular for promoting healthy skin and boosting energy.
When I was doing my internship in China, I noticed that all the TCM doctors I trained with drank hot water with goji berries. As the weather got hot, they added in chrysanthemum flowers, but the goji berries seemed a staple.
Visiting a Local Goji Farm
On the first day of August, my husband and I made a drive all the way out to Aldergrove because ever since I met the owner (Peter Breederland) of a BC goji farm at a health show, I wanted to visit his goji farm.
When we arrived, though I had intended to simply buy freshly picked berries, there was only one clamshell of goji available, so I asked about the U-pick. It was hot, hot, hot out, but I was told the goji are super easy to pick. It’s true. They are. And we picked about 3/4 kg of berries in no time.
Fresh goji are super fragile. Their flesh is very soft and there are small seeds inside. The taste of the larger, ripe goji are mildly sweet, slightly tart. I find some of the berries have a bit of a red pepper taste, but others have told me they are reminiscent of huckleberries (I don’t think I’ve ever had them, so I can’t compare). The LA Times described the taste: “The berries had a mild, sweet, tomato-like flavor, with vegetal, rose and red pepper notes.” I think they taste quite different from the dried goji I’m super familiar with, but I’ve been enjoying fresh goji on my oatmeal, just as I typically have the dried ones.
If you come in for an appointment with me this week, ask me for a goji berry (I’ve got them at the clinic!).
In case you’re interested, you can even buy your own goji plant! Check them out at Gojoy, and let them know I sent you! 😉
I don’t get the Starbucks Unicorn drink craze. It doesn’t look edible, it’s full of junk, and it contains a whopping 59g of sugar! It’s not just the calories. That’s almost 15 tsp of sugar. Inflammatory sugar.
I get that it’s only available for a short time and people just want to try it because others are trying it. I’m curious too. But I know that that drink, for me, is a recipe for a headache–even if I only have a portion of it. So, instead I propose a new unicorn craze. I’d love to start an #acupunctureunicorn trend!
Ok, so the acupuncture point is not called The Unicorn. But I do nickname it the “#1 requested acupuncture point” and the “aren’t you going to do that point” point. The acupuncture point name is actually Yintang, and the benefits are many!
The main reason people request that point from me? Because it helps calm our overactive minds. We want to be mindful, but instead we find we’re “mind full.” Who amongst us couldn’t use a bit more calm? Unicorn acupuncture to the rescue.
What about sleep? Are you able to relax well and enjoy a deep, restful sleep? No? Then perhaps you could use some “acupuncture unicorn.”
Stuffy or runny nose? Allergic rhinitis? Congested sinuses? Become an acupuncture unicorn.
Headache? Perhaps it’s because you had a Starbucks unicorn drink? Or maybe it could be from eye strain, sinus congestion, stress, or other. Some unicorn acupuncture can help with that too.
Are you in? Are you ready to make a new unicorn craze–a healthy one? Take a picture of you getting acupuncture at Yintang and share it with the hashtag #acupunctureunicorn ! That would be a trend worth sharing.
Every year I attend the CHFA (Canadian Health Food Association) trade show that’s open only to retailers and health professionals. This past Sunday I spent the day wandering through the aisles with my mom (she’s a nurse practitioner), checking out what’s available in health supplements and healthy food options.
This is what I picked up.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the tried and true stuff. After all, I am practicing a medicine that has a history of thousands of years–Traditional Chinese Medicine’s foundations began 4000+ years ago. But, I also like to find out what’s new. Even TCM continues to evolve, with elements of our practice being fully modern. After all, don’t you prefer your acupuncture with sterile, fine, filiform needles that are thin as hair and glide with ease rather than a sharpened stone? Uh huh, I thought so. Plus, I love being able to offer biopuncture, press needles, silicone cups for cupping, microcurrent stimulation, Swarovski crystal ear seeds (a different post I’ll need to write about soon), and other newer aspects of TCM practice.
So, without further ado, here are some of the things I was most excited to see at this year’s CHFA trade show: foods with more medicinal benefits, companies giving back, healthy things that are also convenient, people passionate and knowledgeable about health!
Okay, so I’ve often been a bit perplexed about the idea of “functional foods.” After all, aren’t all whole foods functional, i.e. have health benefits? But the term functional foods refers to foods that “have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.” Still, the category is pretty broad. We’re finding out more and more that many foods contain phytonutrients, i.e. chemicals that the plants produce for their own benefit that also provide health perks for us.
Another definition of functional foods is “processed foods containing ingredients that aid specific bodily functions in addition to being nutritious.” What I saw at the show were foods that have been added to. You get the food…plus you get a supplement of some sort. It’s not a new idea. Vitamin D has long been added to dairy products, you can buy omega-3 eggs, and iodine is added to table salt. What I saw though, were the addition of herbs and other nutrients, like this probiotic granola bar. This one is delicious (if you have a sweet tooth), soft, and chewy. It contains 4 billion active probiotic cultures. That’s a good amount! They also make drinks with their probiotics too, though I haven’t tried it yet. Plus, I see that they’ve partnered with the Creation of Hope initiative to help build water wells in Africa, with 5 cents donated for every bottle they sell.
You may know, I’m a big fan of reishi mushrooms. It’s one of TCM’s top herbs! How can it not be, when its Chinese name “ling zhi” translates to “holy mushroom,” and when it’s also known as the “mushroom of immortality!” I write articles regularly for Mikei Red Reishi Mushroom, so I’ve done lots of research beyond the usual for this particular power herb. So, I was excited to see a snack bar with reishi in it (and one with cordyceps too–another powerful Chinese herb!). Though this brand’s reishi uses only the mycelia (root-like structure of a fungus), rather than the fruiting body (the stem and cap–the part you usually think about when you think “mushroom”)–unlike the Mikei brand–meaning it doesn’t contain all the beneficial compounds, it does still contain many polysaccharides that help with immune health. The powerful medicinal compounds in reishi and cordyceps taste awful. They are bitter. So, I was surprised to see them in a granola bar. But, here they were, and the bars taste good. They are crunchier, much firmer than the probiotic bars, and much less sweet. I’m not giving up my daily reishi supplement, but I’d have these snack bars as a topper up on occasion.
Ok, this food isn’t about adding something medicinal to a food, but instead, it’s a functional food that is now being used when it was previously tossed away. Do you love coffee? Did you know that the coffee plant leaf has health benefits? Like many teas, it is rich in antioxidants. The cool thing about attending a trade health show is learning the stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know. Like, the coffee plant leaf contains mangiferin (found in mangoes, but not only mangoes), a compound that is anti a lot of things–antioxidant, antimicrobial (kills bad things you don’t want in your body), anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic–and analgesic (should I have called it “anti-pain”?). It also contains about as much caffeine as green tea and chlorogenic acids–the same compound that has made green coffee beans popular for weight loss. Bonus is jobs. The coffee industry is huge and many people are employed by it, but only for the 3-4 months per year when coffee beans can be harvested. What can they do during the remainder of the year? By harvesting the coffee leaf instead of tossing it, those people can still be employed. Plus, waste not, want not. This really a wise product: Wize Monkey Coffee Tea Leaf.
I’ve recently become minorly (my husband might say it’s not that minor) obsessed with essential oils. I blame two of my friends/colleagues (you know who you are!) who are even nuttier than I am about E.O. I’ve spent way too much money stocking up on oils, but the good thing is that I use them regularly, and I find them helpful! It’s a whole huge topic to go into all the health benefits of E.O., but it’s way beyond smelling nice. For one, did you know that your sense of smell is one of your most primitive and powerful senses? Your olfactory (smell) receptors are directly linked to your limbic system, the part of your brain that helps control your drive for survival, emotional stimuli, motivation, and some types of memory. You’ve likely experienced a powerful memory prompted by a smell–I love the smell of ice rinks because I spent a lot of time there as a figure skater, and Chinese herbal stores always make me feel instantly better.
So, when I came across this company, Divine Essence, I was riveted with amount of information I learned about oils. Many of their oils are organic and they can offer the chemical breakdown analysis for proof of purity, if you ask. The thing about essential oils is that quality can vary. I bought one set of E.O. on a Groupon from a different company. Serves me right. It was cheap. Too cheap, and what I found was that the oils they sent are more like water. Good quality essential oils will have the Latin species name (there are many types of lavender, for instance, each with a different profile), where it was sourced, and that it’s 100% pure and natural. You know when you meet someone who is clearly passionate about what they do? These guys are that. Plus knowledgeable. This may be my favourite product I picked up at the CHFA show: organic helichrysum (also called everlasting or immortelle). It’s beautiful for skin health, an antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, etc. (note that most E.O. should be diluted in oil to use topically and should only be used internally with guided support from someone who’s qualified, despite what some marketing companies say).
If you’re not planning on going E.O. nuts, but you’d like your car or closet or gym bag to smell nice, here’s an option. I’m trying the peppermint one in my car. It’s strongly scented right now, so it’s a good thing I love peppermint. They apparently last for 3 weeks. Please, please, please don’t use the fake scents–those cardboard pine tree-shaped smelly things for your car, Febreeze, fake scented air fresheners, cologne, perfume. The chemicals in those products are harmful to us and to our environment. Raise your hand if you, like me, hold your breath when you walk through the perfume section of a department store or past the store Abercrombie & Fitch (stinks like a cologne war). I love these Purple Frog air fresheners because they combine one of my favourite animals (I collect frog knick knacks) with essential oils. 🙂
Toiletries and Topicals
Toiletries. What an awful name for things that you use to make yourself look better. But, I didn’t create the word and it makes for nice alliteration in my subheading. 😉
Brushing your teeth may not be exciting or ground breaking. But this oil (Body Food Dental) used as an alternative to toothpaste is quite different. It doesn’t foam. It doesn’t have chemicals. No SLS (sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate) or fluoride. You don’t need much. Just add 1-2 drops on your wet toothbrush and brush as you normally would. It’s a specially chosen blend of essential oils (you’ve already seen my love for E.O., as mentioned above) in coconut oil. It also tastes great. Not sure yet if I’ll convert over entirely, but I am alternating it with my natural toothpaste.
I often recommend dry brushing. Why? Because your lymphatic system will benefit, as will your skin. Why do I want to support my lymphatic system? Because the lymphatic system is part of your circulatory and immune systems, clearing away the garbage–dead cells, bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, toxins, excess fluid, and other waste products. I’ve written about lymphatic support here and here. This isn’t a new product at all, but it’s one I was happy to pick up–a dry brush. Practice dry brushing before you hop in the shower and you may find you catch fewer colds, have less puffiness, feel more energy, and have healthier skin. This brush by Urban Spa has a nice long handle, but I did notice that some of the bristles came off when brushing, so I might better recommend the Merben brand, as it comes with options for sensitive skin and is ethically sourced and made.
This product counts as the one I’ve used the most since I picked up a sample. Some of you, as my patients, have already had this EpsomGel applied to your area of pain. I’ve tried topical magnesium products before. But they made me itchy, so I stopped using them. This one didn’t itch. Plus, it also contains arnica, which is good for treating injuries. It does have a light scent, but it’s not overwhelming. If you find that epsom salt baths help you relieve muscle tightness and cramping, then here’s your quick version that doesn’t require you to draw a bath (though you still might like to do that). I find it helpful for menstrual cramps or other muscle cramps, as well as tight muscles in general. If you want something topical for joint pain, and something that you can really feel as cooling and instantly pain relieving, then you might want to try SierraSil’s topical spray (I use that at the clinic). Either way, it’s great to have options for pain relief that won’t damage your liver, stomach, heart, or kidneys.
I didn’t take a picture, but if there was one line of product I wish would disappear, it’s the bottled water category. I get it, sometimes you’re out and you want water. For sure, buy bottled if you’re in a country where the water will make you sick. Otherwise, drink tap or filtered tap water. I have a filter at home and plenty of re-usable, very nice looking and practical containers (some are collapsible and thus more portable for travel). At the trade show, I saw Mood Water. It was plastic bottles of a clear liquid and labels with pictures of emoticons. Cute, but “what’s in it?” I asked. “Water,” she said. Simply that. It was a marketing gimmick: Water is healthy; people like emoticons. But what an environmental waste. As much as I loved the show and am excited to see the innovations put forth next year, I’d like to no longer see stuff like that.
I’ve now recovered from my sampling of too many gluten-free, dairy-free, free trade, organic, vegan snacks, chocolate bars, cookies, ice cream, pastas, breads, spreads, etc. from last Sunday. But I’m still absorbing all the information that I gleaned from that day!
Here I’m going to start with the bad, so I can illustrate the power of something you could call a natural medicine. A study in the 1950s by Dr. Carl Richter involved taking rats and putting them through a forced swim test. Rats can swim, and the rats they used were, as far as they could tell, equally healthy. The rats gave up swimming and sunk (we’ll pretend they ended up ok), fairly quickly–some in mere minutes, some up to 15 minutes. But, if they were removed from the water for a short amount of time before that, and allowed a brief rest while they were held, they could then be put back in the water and swim for up to 60 hours! From 15 minutes max to 60 HOURS!
What?! How could they somehow bring about a Herculean effort to keep swimming for 240 times longer when they would otherwise have given up?
A Natural Medicine
They had hope that they might again be rescued. Hope is a powerful natural medicine. It helps us try more, push harder, and persist longer. And, often, eventually succeed.
So, when I hear from patients that they’ve been told there’s nothing further that can be done–to manage their pain, help them sleep, improve or cure their illness, or simply function and feel better–I’m disturbed by that. Why
That’s why I love Traditional Chinese Medicine and most natural medicine practices. The goal is to discover what combination of imbalances have lead to the health issue at hand, and to help strengthen the body, and thus allow healing. There isn’t always cure. There isn’t always a fast fix. But improvement is possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that I’m someone’s last resort. At the very least, I aim to offer hope and support while the body begins the process of healing.
I get that my title is somewhat ironic. After all, this too is an online posting. But, I do advise that that you use your own critical thinking and ask other experts if anything I say below seems off to you.
This blog all started because of Facebook. Three postings on Facebook over the last 6 or so months. Thank you to my friend who always tags me when her friends ask for health advice, and for sharing topics that open up discussion in the field of health and wellness.
One posting on Facebook asks for advice from friends. For a week and a half he has had shoulder pain and is unable to move his arm above shoulder height without causing sharp pain. Friends suggest he get a ball and dig in deep or use a foam roller to release the muscles. Ack! No, I would not suggest that. He may cause more damage and slow his recovery.
Another posting on Facebook had a woman asking friends if her symptoms of fever, simultaneous sensations of hot and cold, very sore throat, and aching all over was the result of the detox herbs she had started that day. Her friends agreed it was a “healing crisis,” part of the cleansing process that she should proceed with. Nope. I knew it was the flu, and sure enough that’s what it was. Continuing the cleanse would have been harder on her body for her immune system to mount a response.
I agree that it’s great to be able to take care of yourself, with a little help from your friends. But if your friends are not health care providers, you should take their advice with a grain of salt. They want to help, but sometimes they will accidentally cause you more harm.
Sometimes even those who are in the wellness industry hold onto old ideas.
Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef, says that the wellness industry has it wrong–coconut oil is unhealthy because it is full of saturated fat. The article link here. What he neglects to note is what I posted on my friend’s FB page when she opened up the dialogue:
It’s not as simple as Jamie Oliver and that dietician state. For a long time all fat was villainized. Now the mainstream gives monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats hero status and calls saturated fats the villains. The studies are contradictory. Here’s one that’s a meta-analysis (grouping of studies) showing high saturated fat intake did not increase risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or coronary heart disease (CHD): American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A large Japanese study even found that eating more saturated fats was associated with lower rates of death from stroke: Japanese study.
There are studies showing that it might be high sugar intake that increases “bad” cholesterol (e.g. JAMA Internal Medicine). And, even almost 20 years ago, large studies were showing that there didn’t appear to be much link between blood cholesterol and risk of stroke (blood pressure, on the other hand, is a different matter). In fact, this one showed that lower blood cholesterol levels, though associated with lower levels of non-hemorrhagic stroke (the kind where the blood vessels in the brain don’t break), resulted in higher numbers of hemorrhagic stroke (the kind where at least one blood vessel breaks): The Lancet.
For anyone to claim that a real food (I’m not talking about the chemical garbage we’ve made up and called “food”) that has been consumed by populations for centuries is “good” (superfood hero) or “bad” (dangerous—that word is so overused), is presumptuous. It depends on how you eat it, the quality of the food itself (there is crappy coconut oil out there), how much you eat, and most importantly, your own body constitution.
My very long answer, but nutrition and nutrition myths are so important to me. 🙂
What questionable health advice do you most read about online?
My medicine is 3000 or more years old. I see that as a huge plus! After all, billions–yes, billions–of people have used this medicine, all the while learning from it and refining it.
Despite it’s age, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is showing no signs of slowing down, at least not in North America, where it continues to grow its following. One of the reasons for the longevity of this medicine is that it is not reliant on the labelling of diseases.
Conventional medicine often requires a disease label with a specific positive lab test result before it can prescribe a pill to try to reverse the symptoms. This means that “new” diseases are often hard to treat as they have no label. Have you ever been stuck with no solutions or treatments when all tests came back “normal?”
TCM looks for observable signs and patterns of symptoms for its diagnosis. This is why “new” diseases can still be addressed by TCM without an official label. So, while we may now encounter fewer cases of “ancient” diseases such as polio, we can still treat relatively modern patterns of illness such as adrenal fatigue and type II diabetes.
Modern day medicine puts scientific evidence as most important to demonstrate a treatment’s effectiveness. I agree, scientific proof is very important. Traditional Chinese Medicine has thousands of years of observational study to support its use. There is also a relative plethora of modern research about the therapies of TCM–herbs and acupuncture, in particular–and you can access that by searching it out on Google Scholar or checking out PubMed.
Modern TCM also recognizes the benefits of other modern day therapies. Testing methods, like xrays, MRIs, CT scans, electrocardiograms, blood tests, ultrasound, allergy testing, and so forth are not to be discounted. They can be hugely beneficial to our understanding of the human body and give diagnostic guidance. Modern treatments, such as antibiotics, surgeries, and medications, have also saved lives. If someone were to fall off a ladder and bleed from a deep cut on her head, I would recommend going to a hospital to get stitches, be tested for a concussion, and receive proper acute care. After being bandaged up and sent home, I would recommend receiving acupuncture and herbs to help speed the healing of the body and reduce the negative impacts of the concussion.
Modern TCM is found in hospitals, care homes, corporate wellness programs, and integrative medicine clinics–like the one that I’m a part of.
Traditional Chinese Medicine, like all lasting therapies and medicines, must continue to evolve in order to stay relevant to our current lives, all the while maintaining its core of being holistic, treating the whole person and not just the disease. With that as its foundation, I expect that TCM will continue to be a modern ancient medicine for many more years to come.
While pain means suffering and misery to most, it is also a sign that your body is alerting you to pay attention! If your house smoke alarm starts beeping, do you turn it off without addressing the cause of the alarm–the fire? Of course not! Yet many people try to cover up pain by taking drugs or simply ignoring it. While this may temporarily dull the pain, your body will continue to remind you that something is still wrong, and the pain can become more intense and chronic.
It is important to treat pain as pain can slow recovery, interfere with sleep and eating, and worsen fear, anxiety, frustration, and depression. However, “quick fix” drugs have negative possibilities and they often do not treat chronic pain effectively over the long-term.
“Today, adverse drug reactions and drug interactions are directly responsible for thousands of deaths annually and for more than 20 per cent of all hospitalizations for adults over the age of 65.”
— Statistics Canada, 1998
Since drugs do not take care of the source of the problem and they can be associated with many side effects, what can you do?
Traditional Chinese Medicine can address both the branch (the symptom) as well as the root (the cause) of the pain. Acupuncture is a natural, time-tested, safe, and effective way to treat pain. It is acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Arthritis Society, and many pain management centres and institutes.
Chinese herbs, supplements, and food cures can be used alone or to support acupuncture treatments.
How does TCM treat pain?
TCM doctors have used acupuncture and herbs to treat warriors, martial artists, emperors and empresses, farmers, children, and more for over 5000 years.
The basic premise is that pain is a result of a blockage of the normally smooth flow of Qi through the meridians. Qi is the energy that nourishes every cell, tissue, organ, and system in the body. When it is obstructed, it accumulates on one side of the blockage and is deficient on the other side. One of the symptoms associated with this problem is pain. This pathology can be compared to a hose through which flows water to feed a plant. If there is an obstruction in the hose, the water will not flow smoothly and the plant will wilt. And remember, if any area is damaged, tight, or restricted, it also does not receive proper blood flow, and that impedes full healing.
“If there is free flow, there is no pain;
If there is no free flow, there is pain.”
– Classical Chinese medical text, Nan-Ching,
2nd Century A.D.
Acupuncture relieves pain by moving the Qi. While this is not understood at present by western science, medical research has shown acupuncture to be a safe and effective treatment method for pain.
Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the production of endorphins (chemicals that block pain), neutralize trigger points, relax muscles, and block the transmission of pain signals to the brain by stimulating competing nerves.
One major benefit to acupuncture as a complementary therapy, is that it can be used safely with other therapies, including pharmaceutical drugs.
Many herbs have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving. A TCM herbalist will choose herbs that move Qi and Blood to relieve pain, and also add herbs to treat the underlying imbalances.
Without proper nutrition our bodies do not heal well. In order to replace and repair damaged cells, specific nutrients need to be available. When they are not, recovery is impaired. In addition, as with the herbal remedies, some foods have medicinal properties, and food recommendations can be made to suit the individual.
What kinds of pain can TCM treat?
Both acute and chronic pain can benefit from TCM treatments.
Acute pain begins suddenly, is short-term, and is usually the result of a specific injury. An example of acute pain is seen in someone who has just sprained his or her ankle. In the event of a recent injury, x-rays can be used to determine if there is a fracture, and ice is usually applied during the first 24 hours to relieve swelling.
Acupuncture and/or herbs can be used to bring down the swelling, relieve pain, and speed healing. The earlier an injury is treated, the faster the recovery.
Chronic pain is generally defined as pain that lasts longer than three months. It can have significant psychological and emotional effects as it may limit a person’s ability to function well.
Chronic pain occurs in about 11-54% (depending on age) of people, and a conventional search for treatment is unsuccessful for many, thus leading to frustration.
Because TCM treats the source of the symptoms, as well as the pain itself, chronic pain is well-treated by TCM’s holistic system.
When I was 12 I was figure skating 4 days a week and taking dance lessons once a week, in addition to the usual play and activities that kids do both within and outside of school. I also occasionally had swimming lessons, diving lessons, and gymnastics lessons. In other words, I was very active. But at that time my knees started to hurt.
They hurt when I ran. They hurt when I skated. They hurt when I rode my bike. And sometimes they hurt just because. So my mom took me to the doctor and then to the physiotherapist. I was diagnosed with bilateral chondromalacia patellae. Simply put, both knees did not have enough cartilage, the cushioning material, underneath my kneecap. That meant that the bones in my knees experienced more friction, resulting in pain.
I went to physio treatment every week for close to a year. The physio used ultrasound and a TENS machine, instructed me to ice my knees regularly, and gave me quad strengthening exercises. He also had me fitted for knee braces and shoe orthotics. I hated it all. Icing my knees for 10 minutes felt like an hour of torture. I regularly left in more pain after physio. The quad strengthening was fine, but actually, as a figure skater, my quads were pretty strong. Shoe orthotics in those days were not nearly as common as they are now. The only running shoes we could find that fit them were Brooks. Big, ugly Brooks. We did the best we could to find regular shoes to fit the orthotics, but I was a pre-teen and definitely NOT going to wear orthopaedic-looking shoes.
The knee braces. Those were the worst part. They were neoprene, supposedly breathable. But the rash at the back of my knees that occurred when I exercised and sweated proved otherwise. Plus, their “skin” coloured tone did not make them invisible.
Through high school and university I kept up my sports and added in more athletic activities, including volleyball, squash, and step classes. I kept wearing the shoe orthotics and the despised knee braces.
When I moved to Japan for a couple of years, I told myself that I didn’t have space to take the knee braces–poor excuse. Ha! I did still suffer knee pain. My main mode of transportation was a bicycle and the pain got so bad one time that I went to the hospital to have them take a look. The doctor there, without even touching or testing my knees, told me to stop riding my bike. That was how I got to work, so I bore through the pain and managed.
Time and again, I rediscovered my “Achilles heel.” I cried in pain most of my way down Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia (walking downhill is very hard on knees), I gave up after just one painful session of road running training for the Vancouver Sun Run, and my knees gave way when I stepped of the bike after my first (and for a long time, only) spin class.
Shortly after returning to Canada I discovered a “new” medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine. Before even trying out acupuncture, Chinese herbs, or any of the other therapies I now offer, I decided that I would change my path from sports medicine to TCM. In TCM school I received acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I started investigating other ways to help my knees and found that I had very tight hamstrings, so stretched and stretched.
During my 4th year of TCM school I sold my knee braces. Darn. I wish I would have kept them. But not because I want to wear them ever again. Because I’d like to have them as a reminder of where I was and were I am. I will not run distances on the road. But I can run on trail and treadmill and soft surfaces. I can ride my bike. Recently, I even ran down–the dreaded downhill!–Grouse Mountain on my snowshoes. I’m still careful. But, I’m now training to be able to run 10-12 miles on soft terrain for the Tough Mudder this year (2013).
“So, does acupuncture actually work?”, they ask me. Even if they don’t ask, many people think it. Until you experience the benefits of acupuncture, it’s really a fair question to ask. After all, sticking hair-thin needles into various points on the body to heal it doesn’t necessarily fall within the contexts of our western minds. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few links to research about acupuncture and how it works.
Acupuncture improves blood circulation
Acupuncture affects the connective tissue
Acupuncture affects the central nervous system (CNS)
Acupuncture changes reactions in the brain as seen via functional MRI (fMR) imaging
Acupuncture releases the feel good hormones known as endorphins (an old research paper, but still a good one)
Bioelectrical resistance is different along acupuncture channels and at acupoints
The National Institute of Health has also issued a Consensus Statement on Acupuncture stating: “Acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program.”¹
¹ NIH Consensus Conference. Acupuncture. JAMA 1998;280:1518-24