All about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs

A model of the body as a microcosm of the natural world.

Acupuncture is an ancient system of medicine, based on the observations of countless physicians over the past 2500 years. These observations led to the development of a system of acupuncture meridians, imagined as rivers of energy that run throughout the body. The meridians are linked together by smaller streams and tributaries, forming a vast net that connects every part of the body. If the flow of the river is somehow blocked, there will be flood on one side and drought on the other, or in other words, dysfunction. Acupuncture removes blockages along the meridians, restoring balance and allowing the body to heal itself.

How does acupuncture work?

Currently there are no definitive answers on the mechanisms of acupuncture because we are still in the early stages of research. But what we know so far is that acupoints coincide with trigger points, myofascial planes, nerves, and blood vessels. While these points are rich in nerve endings, acupuncture needles do not directly stimulate nerve fibers. Researchers have learned via microscopic ultrasound that manipulating an acupuncture needle in the body causes changes in surrounding collagen structures. These manipulations may induce signals in nearby nerve fibers that then travel to the spinal cord and brain.

The majority of research done on acupuncture has focused on its ability to treat pain.  Trauma to local tissue causes release of inflammatory factors and neurotransmitters, which travel to the spinal cord and brain (where the pain is perceived). Acupuncture causes microtrauma, so may use this same pathway.  Studies of acupuncture involving animals have suggested that acupuncture may impact opiate receptors in different parts of the brain.  It may also trigger an increase in the extracellular concentration of ATP, ADP, AMP, and adenosine, again influencing the pain pathways. Other clinical studies have shown that acupuncture appears to regulate the autonomic nervous system. Finally, functional brain imaging studies done while a person receives acupuncture have shown that activity in deep structures of the brain change when a person receives acupuncture, specifically the limbic system and the insula, a region of the brain deep in the cerebral cortex.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

When most people think of herbal medicine they think of echinacea for boosting immunity, gingko biloba for memory, black cohosh for hot flashes, and so forth. But Chinese herbal medicine is much more complex. A typical formula is made up of five to twenty-five different ingredients, because an individual herb often has multiple functions. For example, ginger can be used for shock, wheezing, urinary incontinence, strengthening the digestive system, or correcting some types of bleeding. Its function in a specific formula will depend on the other ingredients that are present in the formula. For Chinese herbal medicine, the effect is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Treating the root, not just the branch

Chinese herbal medicine differs from Western pharmaceuticals in important ways. The focus of most Western drugs is on treating symptoms. An antacid increases the pH of the stomach to relieve symptoms of heartburn. Proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec decrease the amount of acid made in the stomach. Symptoms will always come back when you stop the drug, because you have treated the branch but not the root of the problem. While Chinese herbs also relieve symptoms, the primary intent is to correct the underlying problem provoking the symptoms.

Avoiding side effects

Most western drugs use a single, biologically-active compound at concentrations beyond what would be found in nature. Such high concentrations create toxicity and side effects. There is an inherent wisdom to treatments from the natural world. For example, ginger has over 400 identified active compounds. These different compounds work synergistically to enhance ginger’s healing abilities and ameliorate side effects. Herbal medicine is grounded in this natural wisdom, blending plants, minerals and other substances into unique, powerful, and safe formulas.

Quality assured

At Whole Family Health, I use patented and powdered formulas only from manufacturers committed to excellence and safety. Their production facilities meet international good manufacturing practice (GMP) guidelines. Testing is done on their products for contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, sulfur dioxide, aflatoxins, and aristolochic acid.