by Robert Gluck
Energy Times, November 1, 1998
The theory behind the practice of
acupuncture confounds western science. This therapy,
originating in Asia, is based on the concept that currents
of energy called meridians flow through your body. However,
no one has ever been able to conclusively demonstrate the
existence of these meridians.
Despite the evasiveness of these energy streams,
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) holds that alterations in
these energy flows can disrupt health and cause pain.
Consequently, an acupuncturist punctures your skin with
specialized needles to redirect the body's vital energy.
Despite the fact that western scientists have not been
able to find satisfactory evidence of the existence of these
energetic meridians, studies show that acupuncture works and
is especially effective at relieving pain. This therapy has
been used to alleviate a variety of conditions including
chronic pain, nausea and even mental illness. In addition,
some practitioners apply it to those trying to shake off the
chains of drug addiction. (More recently, many practitioners
now also successfully use acupuncture to relieve physical
problems in animals.)
Of course, no matter what your perspective on this
therapy, acupuncture's no panacea. While you might use
acupuncture to relieve the discomforts of chemotherapy, you
wouldn't use this technique as your primary weapon against a
dangerous disease like cancer. Still, this reliable therapy
occupies a welcome spot as an adjunct to many mainstream
therapies. Consequently, many mainstream practitioners
accept the validity of using acupuncture and many managed
care companies reimburse this therapy. Some HMOs even keep a
list of approved acupuncturists that they make available to
Acupuncture East and West
The practice of acupuncture dates back at least 2200
years ago in Asia. Only during the last forty years has it
become well-known and widely available in the United States.
Today, 29 accredited acupuncture schools train practitioners
in North America. In addition, traditional healers in Belize
(south of Mexico) have been found to use a form of
acupuncture derived from traditional Mayan medicine.
Is the use of acupuncture by Mayan shamans coincidence?
Or further evidence that acupuncture meridians really exist?
No one knows for sure, although some experts believe the
Mayan use of this therapy supports the notion that the
original ancestors of the Mayans migrated from Asia.
Acupuncturists insert needles into the body to relieve
pain or enhance bodily functions. TCM holds that
acupuncture, and the manipulation of these tiny needles,
moves and manipulates qi (pronounced chee), the body's
"Acupuncture is a method of balancing the body's energy,"
says Carol Alexander, an acupuncturist at the North Jersey
Health and Pain Relief Center in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
"Disease occurs because of an imbalance...Insertion of the
acupuncture needles into meridians will bring about the
balance of qi." Alexander has practiced acupuncture for 10
years and studied at the Tri-State School of Traditional
Acupuncture in Stanford Connecticut.
Alexander says patients sometimes suffer a blockage of qi
or display too much or too little qi. The manipulation and
placement of the acupuncture needles vary according to the
need for adjusting meridian energy flow.
Acupuncture can be used to prevent disease and, if
disease is already rampant, it can be used to help the body
correct the problem.
In conjunction with her use of acupuncture needles,
Alexander rarely prescribes single herbs but uses
combinations of whole herbs that are very specific for
different diseases and disease patterns. "Certain herbs,
such as ginseng, are very prized in Chinese medicine,"
"Astragalus is an herb used in China and around the world
to tonify the qi and increase qi energy as well as stimulate
the immune system."
Alexander uses licorice root for assisting digestion and
for helping women with menopausal discomforts. On the other
hand, she recommends whole food concentrates like bee pollen
granules for enhancing the immune system, peppermint for
treating gastro-intestinal problems plus fiber supplements
as well as the antioxidant/antihistamine quercetin, coenzyme
Q10 and melatonin.
"In terms of classes of nutrients, I use a lot of whole
food concentrates: the green concentrates like barley
greens, wheat grass powder, spirulina and blue-green algae,"
Alexander says. "These are high in minerals, antioxidants,
nutrients and fatty acids. I also use some soy products
because the isoflavone concentrates are very much
The Fine Points of Acupuncture
Acupuncture needles are very fine, as thin as hairs. They
are available in a variety of diameters and lengths. When an
acupuncturist inserts these needles, the sensation is that
of mild pinpricks. (The needles enter the body at depths of
only 1/8th inch to two inches.) In many cases people
experience mild pleasure during needle manipulation.
"From a Western point of view it's important to explain
that there is a distinct function of acupuncture treatment
and that is to increase circulation," Alexander says. "We do
stimulate nerves and we know that with the stimulation of
nerves many neurochemicals and neurotransmitters are
released. They move through the nerves and find receptor
sights, some in the brain, some in other parts of the body."
By stimulating nerves, acupuncturists can calm
inflammation and deaden pain. These effects are believed to
be linked to the release of endorphins and dinorphins,
powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories that the body
produces for itself. Most acupuncturists use this therapy as
part of an overall, multi-faceted treatment plan.
"Qi is what makes you different from a sack of
chemicals," points out David Molony, an acupuncturist at the
Lehigh Valley Acupuncture Center in Catasaqua, Pennsylvania
who studied at the Nanjing Traditional Medicine Hospital in
China and has lectured at Cornell University.
What You Need
"You can manipulate qi with acupuncture, herbs and diet.
Because people's bodies work differently, there are
different approaches. When you ask the question what
nutrients and herbs are effective at enhancing acupuncture,
it depends on what the person needs, according to an
Oriental Medicine diagnosis."
An Oriental Medical examination, Molony says, begins with
a long list of health questions designed to reveal factors
that contribute to disease. A practitioner measures your
pulse in several different places along your arm, inspects
your tongue, may press on your stomach, sniff your general
odor and closely examine your nails and skin for signs of
"You take in everything you can," adds Molony, a board
member of the Acupuncture Society of Pennsylvania and former
board member of the American Association of Acupuncture and
Oriental Medicine. "This gives you clues that you need in
order to make your diagnosis."
Acupuncturists use nutrients and herbs that complement
the treatment, as well as dietary and lifestyle counseling.
Some acupuncturists don't specialize in herbal remedies, so
these practitioners might go to a specialist like David
Winston for advice. Winston, an herb expert skilled in
Cherokee, Chinese and Western eclectic herbal medicine,
works as an instructor, lecturer and consultant.
"In China, acupuncture is considered a complementary
therapy; you generally don't go for treatment and get purely
acupuncture," says Winston who is working on a book about
saw palmetto. "Herbal medicine, diet and qi gong are
important therapies in their own right and acupuncture is
one of those therapies. Qi gong is a form of martial arts
that focuses on unique breathing and visualization methods.
Qi is not exactly energy, it's energy in movement; it's what
makes the blood move."
Acupuncture is used to open blockages that sometimes
build up in what TCM practitioners characterize as excessive
heat or cold. These hot and cold spots do not always
literally refer to the temperature of the body but are meant
to depict changes in the character of the body's vital
Chinese acupuncturists don't necessarily treat diseases,
but target clusters of physical discomforts. Winston says,
"Herbal formulas change depending on the 'symptom pictures.'
Somebody could have acute appendicitis but the symptom
picture could vary. Usually Chinese acupuncturists use herbs
like isatis (a very cold, drying herb that's a powerful
anti-bacterial agent) and coptis (a powerful anti-bacterial
Americans often visit acupuncturists complaining of back
pain or some type of musculoskeletal problem-a wrenched
knee, a ligament that hasn't healed properly or perhaps a
torn rotator cuff. "If the injury is hot to the touch, it's
red, it's inflammatory-that's a condition where there's
excessive heat and in that condition the acupuncturist would
give herbs that are cooling and anti-inflammatory such as
the root of large leaf gentian."
Pain that Moves
If someone suffers pain that moves, pain that is
sometimes exacerbated by damp or humid conditions,
acupuncturists often prescribe clematis root, a wild variety
of the garden plant that is an anti-spasmodic, or
acanthopanax, a relative of Siberian ginseng used for damp
"If there's pain with excessive dampness," Winston says,
"acupuncturists might use duhuo, a drying herb that opens
Molony agrees with Winston that when it comes to choosing
herbs to enhance acupuncture, accurate analysis of the root
cause of the health problem is paramount to making the right
decisions. For example, if a person is qi deficient and her
tongue is thickly coated, she may not be processing her
energy properly. Phlegm builds up, decreasing energy. "What
you want to do is give them herbs that move phlegm, like
citrus peel, and combine that with acupuncture points that
move phlegm also," Molony says.
For stimulating metabolism, Molony uses lactoferin-processed
colostrum from cows. He uses ginseng and atractylodes as qi
tonics and he adds herbs like magnolia bark or atractylodes
He believes antioxidants are helpful too, as preventive
medicines, including vitamins C and E. These valuable
nutrients disarm the harm that reactive molecules can wreak
within the body.
So how important are herbs and nutrition to enhance
acupuncture's effectiveness? Acupuncturists seem to agree
that healthy doses of antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E
plus antioxidants from grapeseed extract) as well as
specialized herbs, turn this therapy into a highly effective
healing tool. Those wanting to benefit from this penetrating
technique should stock up on nutrients. Then sit back,
relax, kick off your shoes and let the acupuncturist do her