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American College of Physicians New Guidelines Suggests Acupuncture to Treat Low Back Pain

Have back pain? You are not alone. Most of us have experienced back pain at one time or another. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the most common issues that send scores of people to see the doctor every year. But if you’re primed for walking out of the clinic with a prescription, you might be in for a little surprise. 

The Dope on Drugs  

Think you need over-the-counter or prescription drugs to treat low back pain? Not so, says the American College of Physicians (ACP). On February 14, the largest physician group in the U.S. released updated guidelines recommending people should treat low back pain with non-drug therapies instead.

Why, you asked? Well, as it turns out, that “trusty” bottle of acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol®) you’ve been reaching for all these years simply doesn’t work for low back pain. The ACP also takes a stance against doctors prescribing opioid painkillers due to the serious addiction and overdose risks associated with them. Steroid injections, corticosteroid pills, and antidepressants also get a thumb down when it comes to treating low back pain.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including non-prescription meds like ibuprofen (e.g. Advil®, Motrin®), may be helpful as a secondary approach (after non-drug methods) for acute and subacute back pain (up to 12 weeks), but they are not recommended as the starting point. For chronic back pain, the guidelines also advocate only selecting NSAIDs if the non-drug approaches are insufficient, “and only if the potential benefits outweigh the risks for individual patients and after a discussion of known risks and realistic benefits with patients.”

Reframing Low Back Pain Treatment

There is definite shift in how doctors and patients view treating low back pain. Steven Atlas, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who practices at Massachusetts General Hospital, applauds the new guidelines, and states, “We are moving away from simple fixes like a pill to a more complex view that involves a lot of lifestyle changes.”

Fortunately, there is a gambit of healthy ways to treat your low back pain. The ACP lists several non-drug options, including heat wraps, massage, yoga, exercise, multi-disciplinary rehabilitation, guided relaxation techniques, and yes, you guessed it, acupuncture. These great alternative therapies will not only provide pain relief, but also help you live a more active lifestyle.

But We Knew This, Right? Acupuncture to Treat Low Back Pain

I know it’s easy to reach for a pill. But all pills have some risks associated with use, especially when used in higher dosages or when used regularly. Acetaminophen puts your liver at risk. And NSAIDs can cause stomach or intestinal bleeding or heart attack or stroke. Plus, you are only masking the symptom, not fixing the problem. Why turn off the fire alarm if you aren’t going to also try to put out the fire?

It’s great to see that changes in policy guidelines are being offered to conventional medicine practitioners, based on evidence. Though this is the U.S. guidelines, it’s this kind of shift in understanding that can lead to changes in how we deliver healthcare, financially support treatment options, and eventually also improve the health of more and more people. We still have a way to go, but for this one update, I say “Hooray!”


Trump. So now what?

Trump election healthy move forwardI’m a silver-lining-seeker, an other-side-of-the-coin-thinker, an uplifting-quotes-subscriber. But these last few days have been tough. I know I probably shouldn’t post something political, but it’s both political and non-political, as what is happening now is affecting how many are feeling. I’ve read postings on Facebook by friends who state that something good will come of this, though there are a surge of postings by people who’ve experienced hatred, verbal abuse, physical assault, and other crimes at the hands of people in support of Trump (I recognize this is not the majority). And this is just a few days in. I find that hard to stomach. I find it hard to tell myself to breathe deep and let go. I find myself riled up!

So much so that I jumped out of bed to write this.

The fact is that I do still believe in our better selves (no, not bitter selves). That includes everyone. I think that people are acting out of hatred in response to their own fears and insecurities. But it doesn’t make it any easier if you are the victim (or potential victim) of any of that hatred. And I find it hard to reconcile, as I personally can’t imagine taking those steps of aggression toward people of a different race, gender, sexual identity or preference, or religion. But I am not in the shoes of those people. I was not taught the same things. I’ve been fortunate.

I will not, nevertheless, allow that hatred to rear its ugly head in my presence. My Japanese-Canadian grandparents know/knew racism. They were moved from their homes in Port Moody, BC to internment camps in ghost towns. They had their property taken from them by our government. Some of their neighbours and friends tried to help. Some did nothing. Some stood aside, allowing it to happen. Some cheered as it happened. My grandparents and their families did as they were told. They said, “Shikata ga nai.” That literally means, “There is no way.” In other words, there’s nothing we can do, so let it be done. They quietly accepted.

After the war, they were not allowed to return to their homes. Their property had been sold, so they had next to nothing. They were told to either return to Japan (some had never been there, having been born in Canada!) or move east of the Rockies. It’s my mother’s generation (the Sansei—3rd generation) who spoke up in the 1980s, asking for apologies and financial concessions. They also fought and won an end to the “War Measures Act” that allowed the government to suspend civil liberties and personal freedoms.

I often use the mantra, “shikata ga nai, shikata ga nai, shikata ga nai,” when I’m faced with something that seems out of my control. It can be a good mantra to help relieve stress and tension.

But, today I realized something. In this case, that’s the wrong thing for me to say. We all have something we can do. I had a conversation with a patient who is a financial planner. We got talking about how many people in the U.S. are angry and feel their poverty is outside of their control and caused by others. There may be some merit to that. But it’s also possible that they didn’t understand how to best take care of their limited finances. It’s not taught in schools. In fact, many otherwise well-educated people don’t understand much about managing their finances, investing wisely, or saving effectively. He tries to change that by reaching out to those he knows to help them understand the basics. Maybe those of you with that knowledge could shout a bit louder that you can help.

What if you’re a history teacher? Rather than just have your students memorize dates and events (that was my history class in high school), you could discuss key historical events and their impact, both good and bad. Help us learn from our past mistakes. Remind us where we’ve erred before so we can correct our actions now and in the future.

Each of us can rest a bit easier knowing that if we have something we do well, we could do that with a little more oomph. Something that provides more good in this world. And that can be with anything that we do.

When I purchased something at a store today, the salesperson asked me, “Would you like to donate a dollar to…Donald Trump?” He smiled mischievously and I laughed. This morning as I headed into the Skytrain station, the guy handing out free newspapers was shouting, “Have a wonderful day!” and “Happy Thursday!” He didn’t need to do that, but he clearly wanted to uplift those around him. When my cell phone’s screen went dark and wouldn’t display anymore, I had to take it in to get it fixed. At the phone kiosk, the young guy behind the counter was extremely friendly and helpful. At first, I didn’t want him to be. I was mad that I had to spend my time getting this item fixed when I bought it less than a year ago. But, he didn’t let my grumpy mood alter his attitude. Soon enough, my mood was softened.

Since I’m in healthcare, my offering is going to be health-related. I try to teach people how to take care of their health. When you are sick, tired, in pain, or just not feeling well, you aren’t your best self. You may be more likely to snap at people. You might have less energy to do your best job. You could find yourself unwilling to push yourself to go that extra step to provide more good in this world.

So, I pledge to keep trying my very best to make each of you healthier so you can spread more of your own positivity.

Now I think I’ll use the mantra, “Hoho wa arimasu”—“There is a way.” Or perhaps “noli illegitimi carborundum” (look up this phrase online).


Rhino horn sold at auction for $228,000!

Yes, you read that right. $228,000. In most places that would buy you a nice small house. In Vancouver you can’t even get a tiny condo for that. But still, you could get rid of a good chunk of mortgage! 

rhino horn sold at auction

Rhino Horn Sold at Auction by Maynard’s

The 19th century rhino horn sold at auction in Vancouver on November 21st to buyers who the vendor thinks will grind it up into powder to sell it as medicine. It is legal because the horn is believed to be from the early part of the 1900s, and the ban on sale is for any 1975 or newer because of the endangered species status of rhinos. 

I have no problem with the sale of the horn. But, if it’s sold as medicine, I feel that that perpetuates the idea that this “herb” is valuable beyond the value of other more ethical and useful herbs. It’s pricey, not because it is more effective, but because it is rare. It’s rare because we made it rare by killing off en masse nearly a whole precious species of animals. 

Traditionally, rhino horn was used to stave off fevers and get rid of toxins, though there is folklore that it is an aphrodisiac. It may help with fevers and toxins, but many other herbs also do this. It is not an effective aphrodisiac. Unless, perhaps, you believe it is. But, sex is largely guided by your thoughts anyway, so a shoe can do that too, for some. I’ve written in a past article in 24 Hours Vancouver (Rhino Horns Don’t Work) what I think about rhino horn (and other unethical herbs).

If you are looking for effective medicines to help treat illness and disease or to help you stay healthy, spend your money wisely and choose quality products with informed and ethical practitioners.

I’m quoted in today’s Vancouver Sun article: rhino horn sold at auction in Vancouver.


WHO declares processed meat cancer risk

processed meat cancer risk, WHO carcinogenic, healthy food, nutritionIt’s not a surprise to most of us in the health world–processed meat is not healthy for you. Cancer agencies and other health agencies have long been telling the public to limit consumption of processed and red meats. But to hear the World Health Organization (WHO) label it a Group 1 carcinogenic this week is a bit of a big deal. The meat industry is a huge one with lots of money and lots of power and input. And they are not happy with processed meat cancer Group 1 labelling. 

WHO links processed meat to cancer 

(CNN) The World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report Monday which placed processed meats, including bacon and sausages, in the same category as smoking and asbestos for causing cancer. Processed meat causes cancer, says WHO.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the cancer agency for the WHO. With a working group of 22 experts from 10 countries, they looked carefully at the accumulated research (more than 800 studies!) on the effects of  processed meats and red meats on cancer.

Processed Meat Cancer Risk 

What the IARC concluded was that there is sufficient evidence that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), particularly for colorectal cancer. So, why is it such a risk? The curing and salting of meat is what creates cancer-causing chemicals such as polycylcic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Processed meats include:

  • bacon (the kick-back from people on this one is huge–I’ve personally never understood the bacon-love thing)
  • hot dogs
  • sliced meat
  • ham
  • corned beef
  • beef jerky
  • sausages
  • canned meat
  • meat-based preparations and sauces

For each 50g portion of processed meat daily, your risk for colorectal cancer increases by 18%. To put that into perspective, 50g is about 2 slices of bacon, and Group 1 carcinogenic is the same category as tobacco and asbestos

However, experts also note that the processed meat cancer risk is not nearly as high as that of smoking. About 6-7% of Canadians will develop colorectal cancer, according the the Canadian Cancer Society. So, with a daily 50g serving of bacon, a 7% risk rises to 8.26% (this is an 18% increase from a person’s baseline risk). By comparison, smoking increases your risk of lung cancer by 2500%! And, of course–as the meat industry is keen to point out–cancer is a complex disease with more than one cause.

But still, the processed meat cancer risk is important to consider. 

The Global Burden of Disease Project suggested that 34,000 global cancer deaths each year are connected to diets rich in processed meat, according to the IARC.

Red Meat Cancer Risk

Red meat was also investigated and was found to fit the category of probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), mostly colorectal cancer, but also possible connections to pancreatic and prostate cancer

Considering that the average American ate 71.2 lbs of red meat in 2012 (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture), there is a lot of money that the meat industry does not want to lose. So, they are already on the attack, with the North American Meat Institute stating that the recent report is “dramatic and alarmist overreach.”

My favourite quote, however, is from Bonnie Liebman, the nutrition director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“The meat industry, which is attacking the IARC, has less credibility than the Flat Earth Society. IARC is the gold standard for rigor, comprehensiveness, and reasonableness — all qualities in short supply in the meat industry and its friends in Congress.”

Should you be scared?

For many of you, no, I don’t think so, and neither do many health experts. But, if you have a higher cancer risk already, if you suffer from other diseases, if you eat lots of red meat and processed meats…then yes, time to make a change. General health recommendations are for 3 or fewer servings of red meat per week, and rare inclusion of processed meats. 

Before this report came out, my husband and I had already decided to do “No Meat November” because of animal and environmental reasons. “Meatless May” was a great success for us, as we got to try so many delicious foods. We already don’t eat pig and rarely eat processed meats or red meat, so this report changes nothing for my habits.

Traditional Chinese Medicine does not recommend everyone stop eating all meat. However, traditionally, meat was consumed more like a condiment, not the main dish. It was also all wild, organic, and eating its natural foods (not “feed” and drugs) prior to landing on our dinner plates.

Of course, each of us has individual health needs, so what do you think about what you’ve read, and will it change anything for your food choices?

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24 Hours Newspaper: Acupuncture not Voodoo

“It’s not voodoo,” he said. These words were spoken by an acupuncture patient and fan. He’s right! Acupuncture is not voodoo, though to some, that is exactly what it may look and feel like. For the rest of the article, click on Acupuncture Gets Straight to the Point of Pain (or click here for the PDF version).


24 Hours Newspaper: Rhino Horns Don’t Work

I wanted to set the record straight. Rhino horns do not benefit human health. Rhino horns, tiger bones, and bear bile each belong to those respective animals, not in our herbal remedies! Check out my article about this in 24 Hours newspaper. No Proof Rhino Horns, Tiger Bones Increase Performance (or click here for the PDF version).



My 2nd article in 24 Hours Newspaper

Conventional modern medicine has fancy machines, expensive medications, and complicated surgeries. TCM uses simpler, but still powerful means for diagnosis and treatment. Check out my article in Vancouver’s 24 Hours newspaper:

Ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach Has Relevance In Modern Times


Modern TCM in 24 Hours

In this week’s 24 Hour newspaper, I wrote about Traditional Chinese Medicine’s powerful and complex, but low-tech, diagnostic systems and treatments are important in our modern world. Check it out here: Ancient traditional Chinese medicine approach has relevance in modern times. (or click here for the PDF version)



2000 Plus Years in 24 Hours

Local newspaper 24 Hours contacted me to ask if I would be interested in writing a short series of articles about alternative/integrative medicine. “Of course!” was my answer. A chance to write about Traditional Chinese Medicine and its role in modern healthcare? Jump!

So, here is a link to part one: Ancient Medicines Find Favour with Canadians (click here for the PDF version)


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