Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine: Health Care for a New Millennium

by Jack Schaefer MAcOM LAc

In today’s world, we’re bombarded daily with every kind of health advice, ranging from miracle diets to cutting-edge surgeries. More and more people take pharmaceuticals to solve their problems, and for many people, the drug side effects cause more harm than their original health problem. Many of these medications are later yanked off the shelves shortly after their introduction because they cause serious harm to the body.

Our society often uses the strongest methods possible to treat relatively minor problems, sometimes even resorting to surgery and powerful pharmaceuticals when neither is necessary. Such strategies have created problems like antibiotic-resistant staph infections and “super-bugs.” It’s like trying to resolve every disagreement by dragging out the nuclear weapons. You can always increase the strength of a treatment, but you can never undo a surgery. When trying to heal oneself, one should ask, “What is the least-invasive way that I can fix my problem?”

Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a time-proven answer to today’s health care dilemmas. This ancient method of healing has been developed and perfected over 2000 years. What makes acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine different from other methods? First (and least understood in the West), we use a unique method of diagnosis that assesses the individual’s unique health needs. Second, we design strategies of individualized treatment to permanently change people’s health. And last, we design a prevention system to maximize health and keep the problem from returning again.

Diagnosis

Chinese medical diagnosis pinpoints the imbalances in people’s bodies that cause their health problems. All of the information gathered during the intake process is used to figure out exactly what is out of balance in someone’s body, and what is causing that imbalance.

For example, if a patient has headaches, there are eight or ten types of imbalances that might be causing that person’s headache. This is the exact reason that two people with a headache may respond very differently to Western headache medications. We don’t get headaches from an aspirin deficiency, so why do we take aspirin when we get headaches? It makes more sense to isolate and address the root cause to make the problem go away for good. A good acupuncturist will diagnose this cause and design a treatment that will restore balance.

So what does it mean to have an imbalance? The answer to this question is slightly complicated. Our bodies exist as a complex network of systems: blood circulation, body fluids, lymph, organ functions, hormones, emotions, etc. Chinese medical diagnostic methods consider every system of the body and how they interrelate and balance each other.

In a body with perfect health, all bodily systems have achieved optimum balance. In a sick or injured body, these systems and organ functions continue to spiral more and more out of balance. Many people report that, once they got sick, they acquired other, seemingly unrelated health problems. A properly-trained acupuncturist will find the relationship between these imbalances to resolve the problem with an accurate treatment strategy.

Treatment

Once a diagnosis is made, treatments are designed to help the body restore its balance. The treatments in Chinese medicine are particularly different from what we’re accustomed to in the West. Chinese medicine primarily uses acupuncture, Chinese herbs and other traditional physical therapies to heal the body.

Acupuncture is a hands-on treatment method designed to adjust the circulation in the body. The acupuncturist may be adjusting circulation to or from an organ, joint, painful area, etc. To adjust circulation, the acupuncturist properly chooses a series of five to ten acupuncture points, out of the several hundred points all over the body. The acupuncturist then stimulates the point using pressure, heat, or a fine, hair-like needle. Much like tuning an instrument, this gentle and precise method fine-tunes the body’s systems to make it operate smoothly. And, unlike drugs, acupuncture is free of harmful side effects.

Acupuncturists also often use natural herbal substances to aid in the healing of imbalances; however, we prescribe herbs differently from Western herbalists. Most naturopaths and Western herbalists prescribe herbs in the same way that doctors prescribe drugs (Herb X cures Symptom X, etc.). A Chinese herbalist will instead create a complex, customized formula involving approximately five to twenty herbs, uniquely balanced for that specific patient and problem. Because no two people are alike, no two people with the same problem will take the same formula! This prescription method is very powerful in helping each individual heal and restore balance.

Herbs are not used as a palliative measure to gloss over problems or merely relieve symptoms, and once the patient has restored his/her health, he/she discontinues taking the herbs. The goal is to heal the patient, then maximize health through prevention.

Prevention

The last way that a Chinese medicine practitioner differs than a modern Western medical practitioner is our focus on prevention. We feel that once the patient has healed from the problem and restored a healthy balance, both the patient and practitioner must focus on prevention to make sure that the problem does not recur. Through education, the practitioner helps the patient understand how the imbalances occurred in the first place, and how to prevent them in the future.

Maintaining health is similar to driving a car. The driver can’t hold the steering wheel in one position and expect to stay safely on the road! He/she must constantly make minor adjustments with the steering wheel to stay on course. Our bodies are the same; even when healthy, we must make periodic, minor adjustments to stay perfectly healthy.

Prevention can consist of activities such as the proper exercise for that individual, the proper diet for that individual, relaxation techniques and home health remedies. The practitioner may also recommend periodic “tune-ups” to help the patient maintain optimum health. Prevention and maintenance is always cheaper than waiting until you get sick.

Other Considerations

One more thing to consider: acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine is much less expensive than Western medicine. An average office visit to a Chinese medical practitioner costs approximately $65, plus about $10 for herbs. The average visit to a Western medical doctor can cost hundreds of dollars, and prescription medications can cost nearly as much (sometimes more). And let’s just hope you don’t need tests, the sum total of which occasionally runs in the thousands of dollars. The meager cost of a natural, preventative approach pays for itself in cash, happiness and well-being.

Remember, you can always increase the strength of a treatment, but you can never undo a surgery. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine may not be the solution for every problem, but isn’t it worth giving yourself the chance to heal naturally? If you or someone you know is dealing with a health problem, you have nothing to lose by trying this time-proven medicine – the health care system for the new millennium.