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Thursday, September 10, 2015

DIY Neck Pain Relief

In our increasingly digital world, we are constantly looking down at our phones, tablets and laptops.  It is no wonder, then, that more and more people come to my clinic for neck pain relief.

Nerves from all over the body go through the neck to reach the brain.  If your neck muscles are tight or spasming, it can irritate the nerves and cut off circulation to the brain and eyes.  As a result, you may experience dizziness, vision problems, difficulty breathing, and anxiety.  Frankly, I cannot overstate how important the neck is to your general feeling of wellbeing.

Chinese neck stretching exercises

There are several different ways of relaxing your neck muscles.  The most basic, of course, is to eliminate or reduce the activities that cause those muscles to tighten up, such as the use of electronic devices or misaligned sleeping positions.  However, for most people, drastically reducing the time you spend on the computer is simply not an option due to the nature of your work.  If this is the case, stretching and acupressure may be a good place to start.

Last December, I did a 3-part video series with Dr. Jing Fan, an orthopedic surgeon from Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, on stretching exercises for neck pain. The original blog post can be found on my clinic's website, www.bostonchineseacupuncture.com.  Dr. Fan, who is very tall and spent many hours every day looking down to perform surgeries in China, believes that by doing these exercises for 10 minutes daily, he was able to stave off the neck pain that plagued so many of his colleagues.

If you are in need of instant pain relief and do not have the time or space to perform stretching exercises, there are a few acupressure points you can press while sitting at your desk or lying down. These four points along the neck and upper back are called Gallbladder 20 (Feng Chi), Small Intestines 15, Gallbladder 21 (Jian Jing) and Bladder 15.  I provide a detailed explanation of each one in the video below.


Sometimes, however, if your neck muscles have been spasming for too long or you simply cannot reduce the amount of time you spend sitting and working at the computer, DIY neck pain relief may not be enough.  If that is the case, you many want to consider getting acupuncture done at those neck pain relief acupoints to deeply relax your muscles and reset them for a healthier alignment.  I have offices in Needham, MA (20 min outside of Boston) and in Boca Raton, FL, but with the increase in the number of acupuncture schools in the U.S., you should be able to find an experienced acupuncturist near you.

That is all for my DIY Neck Pain Relief Guide for now!  As always, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel @AcuOptimalHealth for more information on acupuncture and healthy living.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

All About Women and Autoimmune Diseases

As women, we go through three main periods of hormone upheaval in our lifetime: first during puberty, second during and after pregnancy, and lastly during menopause. When our body is going through such dramatic hormonal changes, we can develop a condition known as estrogen dominance, where the level of estrogen in our body is too high compared to progesterone.

Estrogen is generally an immune stimulant while progesterone is an immune suppressant. Thus, if there is not enough progesterone to balance out estrogen, our immune system may become hyperactive and attack our own tissues, resulting in different autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's, colitis, and ALS, depending on which tissues are targeted.

If you are interested in the mechanism of how hormone changes affects our likelihood of getting autoimmune diseases, please read the more detailed article I wrote on my website, www.bostonchineseacupuncture.com!

Below are some tips for preventing autoimmune diseases.
  1. Avoid using birth control pills if possible. When you do not ovulate regularly, your body has less progesterone to balance estrogen, and therefore, immune function tends to be hyperactive. Once the imbalance reaches a certain level, your gene expression will change.

  2. Avoid too much alcohol. Alcohol can enhance an enzyme called aromatase which can convert naturally occurring testosterone into "bad estrogen" that overstimulates your immune system. Also, alcohol tends to make your body produce internal heat, leading to inflammation.

  3. Eat more cruciferous vegetables. Kale, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower can inhibit aromatase naturally.

  4. Avoid dry cleaning clothing and using plastic containers. The chemicals used can serve as bad estrogen to change our immune function.

  5. Practice yoga, Qi Gong and meditation to calm down the nervous system.

  6. Take wheatgrass, raspberry tea, and Chinese herbal formulas to enhance your ovarian, adrenal and other gland functions to create a more balanced hormone level. Certain chemicals in these supplements can also serve as very weak, "good estrogen" to prevent the stimulating effect of "bad estrogen".

  7. Regular acupuncture treatments can help adjust your nervous and immune functions.
As always, please subscribe to my YouTube Channel for regular updates on acupuncture and health!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Osteoarthritis & Acupuncture Video Series

Osteoarthritis is the inflammation of the joints caused by wear and tear. Although it can occur in any joint, osteoarthritis typically affects the knee and hip joints.

Recently, I filmed a video series about how acupuncture can help reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis.  For example, acupuncture can reduce the amount of swelling inside the joints, which gives you greater mobility. In addition, acupuncture can induce increased production of hormones inside your body that naturally provide pain relief, such as endorphin, serotonin and dopamine. 

If this peaks your interest and you'd like to learn more about the specific acupuncture points that are used to treat osteoarthritis, please watch the following video where I demonstrate 4 points around the knees that I commonly use on patients with osteoarthritis. Since it is summer vacation right now, I performed the demonstration on my youngest son.  He doesn't have osteoarthritis, but he does play a lot of sports so I figured it's never to early to start protecting his knees with acupuncture!

If you like these mini videos, please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more.  Or if you prefer reading about osteoarthritis to watching videos, transcripts for these can be found at my website, BocaAcupuncture.org!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Acupuncture for Infertility FAQ

Last Wednesday, April 1, my clinic was featured on the WCVB show Chronicle in their episode titled Fertility. It was truly an honor for me to be make my first television appearance talking about how acupuncture can help couples conceive, a topic that has been very important to my career as an acupuncturist. The outpouring of response to this show has been tremendous and I thank everyone who was involved in its production and who took the time to watch! 

My kids took this screenshot of the show and posted it all over their Facebook pages.  I wonder if this means I am finally going to crack the 15-25 year-old demographic!

After the show aired, I received quite a number of requests for further information on how acupuncture for infertility works. I have included a few basic responses below and the rest can be found on my website, Boston Chinese Acupuncture.

How many couples have you helped get pregnant?

Over the past 15 years I have been practicing in the Boston area, I have helped a couple of hundred women give birth to healthy babies. Women of all ages and underlying fertility problems have come to me for help. I have successfully treated women as old as 46 and women with clinical reproductive problems, including severe endometriosis and PCOS. I have even helped a woman with re-opened ligated tubes get pregnant!

When should I start acupuncture treatments?

You should start acupuncture treatments at least 3 months before you plan to conceive, whether naturally or through IVF and IUI. Acupuncture helps relax your uterus muscles and balance your hormones, increasing the likelihood of a successful implantation

How often should I come for treatments? How long will it take before I get pregnant?

I generally recommend patients come 1-2 times a week. Because the effects of acupuncture are incremental and cumulative, for the best results, I recommend spacing out treatments evenly without leaving too much time between sessions. In my experience, it takes between 2 and 12 months of acupuncture for most women to get pregnant, depending on the individual's age and general health.

Should I continue acupuncture treatments during pregnancy?

Yes. Although acupuncture can been done safely during the entire course of the pregnancy, I recommend that my patients continue acupuncture until at least 12 weeks into their pregnancy. Acupuncture treatments can help lower the rate of miscarriages, which is particularly important during the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New Event: Health Seminar at Whole Foods Market Boca Raton

Next month, I will be holding a free lecture about how green juice and acupuncture can reduce inflammation to prevent cancer, allergies and autoimmune diseases at the Whole Foods Market in Boca Raton, FL. In this lecture, I will use recent scientific research to explain how green juice (blended vegetables comprised predominantly of leafy greens) can help the body balance its immune function and produce more anti-inflammatory chemicals such as cortisol, progesterone and other relaxing hormones. I will also use clinical cases to demonstrate how a powerful combination of green juice and acupuncture can help people fight infertility, menopause and arthritis and aid cancer survivors in preventing neuropathy, anxiety, depression and insomnia. At the end of the talk, I will also be sharing a few of my favorite green juice recipes!

Date: April 19, 2015
Time: 11 am - 12:30 pm
Address: 1400 Glades Rd, Boca Raton, FL 33431 (Boca Raton Whole Foods Market)

Weekly green juice excursion to Whole Foods

I admit that I was originally a green-juice skeptic before my patients convinced me to buy a Vitamix and give juicing a go. The hassle to make a frankly unappetizing, goopy mixture the texture of baby food seemed hardly worth the effort. But after making and drinking green juice for the past few months, I can say that I have been converted. The juices, which are predominantly kale-based, are pretty delicious once I looked past its coloring.  I also started experimenting by adding different fruits and honey into the mix, giving the blend a pleasantly sweet flavor and making it much more palatable.  Making green juice has become a fun kitchen experiment rather than a chore!

Most importantly, I understand now what the hype about green juice is all about. Between the extra fiber, vitamins and minerals, a cup of green juice a day leaves my digestive system running smoothly and my body feeling youthful.  I was also impressed by how full and satisfied I felt after drinking green juice. One problem I've had ever since I was little was feeling hungry between meals. I would snack frequently - a little bit of chocolate here, a handful of nuts there. But as I've gotten older and my metabolism has slowed down, I now need to be much more careful about snacking. Green juice has really helped me on this front because after drinking it, I do not need to eat as much. It's a great relief not to have my stomach clamoring for attention all the time!

Find out more about this event at Facebook and Eventbrite. RSVP today and I hope to see you there!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Using Acupuncture to Increase Blood Oxygen Level

A patient I will call Cindy grew up in Boston and came to my clinic for acupuncture treatments due to breathing difficulties and low blood oxygen levels. She had been an incredibly active and restless lady throughout her life, unable to sit still and constantly moving around energetically. As a teacher in Boston, she loves to use her knowledge and encourage kids to become passionate and creative people. She also takes good care of her family. 

A couple of weeks ago, she had a very stressful work week. Afterwards, she suddenly developed chest tightness and breathing difficulties, so she went to the emergency room and got her heart and lungs checked. Her organs showed no abnormalities, but her blood oxygen level readings (which were measured through her fingers) constantly fluctuated between 67 and 98%, with the right and left fingers showing different readings. She went to see a cardiologist and a pulmonary specialist and was told her lungs and heart have no problems. However, when her oxygen level dropped below 87%, she started having anxiety and chest tightness. 

One day, while sitting in a conference in Needham, she became almost intolerably uncomfortable by the end of the day because her oxygen level had dropped to 76%. During weekends, she does not work and consistently sleeps well, but the blood oxygen level readings of her right side would still be much lower than those of her left side, which typically hovered around 98% percent. She could not understand why the two sides were so different.

A friend recommended her to see me in order to figure out the reason behind her blood oxygen level fluctuation and the difference between her left and right sides. I analyzed her symptoms as well as her medical history. She told me that she was born with weak rotator cuff muscles, which I think may have caused her neck muscles to be extremely tight.  At the time she came to see me, she was 50 years old. Even though she still had normal periods, her ovarian and adrenal gland function had been steadily declining, leading to decreased production of “relaxing” hormones, such as GABA, serotonin and progesterone, and infrequent panic attacks during which she would feel overwhelmed by her responsibilities. The parts of her body that allow her to cope with stress, such as the hypothalamus and pituitary and adrenal glands, have nowhere near the functionality that they had when she was 20. Her estrogen levels were decreasing, but her progesterone levels, estrogen’s counterpart, were declining at a faster rate. Her unbalanced estrogen levels made her nervous system more sensitive to stress, and her overall declining hormone levels caused her shoulder and neck muscles to weaken. If she experienced the same amount of stress she used to experience when she was twenty now, her body would suffer long-term, irreparable damage. Acupuncture can help strengthen her adrenal and ovarian gland function, so she can produce more “relaxing” hormones to cope with stress more efficiently.

Before her first treatment, I asked her to measure her blood oxygen level: the reading fluctuated between 70 and 90%. When I conducted acupressure research with a nurse practitioner at the Medical College of Ohio, I learned that when babies sleep on their stomach, their blood oxygen levels typically increase and they are more relaxed. With that in mind, I ask Cindy to lie on her stomach: her blood oxygen levels started to rise instantly. Afterwards, I put in a few needles to relax her neck and upper shoulder muscles. During this treatment, her blood oxygen levels remained between 98 and 99% for the whole 50 minutes. Next, I applied electrical stimulation on her neck and shoulder muscles for ten minutes. After the treatment, her blood oxygen levels continued to stay at around 98%.  

I believe that her low blood oxygen levels were related to her tight neck and shoulder muscles. However, it seemed peculiar to me that more people do not suffer from her condition. The fact that the rotator cuff muscles on her right side were born weaker than the muscles on her left side could explain why her blood oxygen levels were constantly different on the two sides of her body. In addition, her hyperactive nervous system probably exacerbated the situation. When you are stressed out or have been sitting for too long, your neck and upper shoulder muscles become very tight, which may trigger nerve reflexes, causing your breathing to become shallow and less efficient.  As a result, your blood oxygen levels start dropping, especially in the absence of fresh air, and you become increasingly anxious. This is the reason why many people who work in confined spaces have to go out frequently for fresh air to maintain their productivity.

When a person is in a confined space with many people, lower oxygen levels in the air can cause his/her blood oxygen levels to drop and can trigger anxiety and panic attacks. In contrast, taking a walk on the beach or in the woods, where oxygen levels are high, can alleviate stress and cause one to feel relaxed and happy. If you have no time to go to the beach, simply open the window or stand outside and take deep breaths.

Recent research indicates that meditation combined with a certain type of relaxed thinking and deep breathing can actually change your gene expression. For instance, if you were born with a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system, meditating can create a balance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. In this way, when you have to cope with stress, you can stay calm and breathe deeply so your heart rate will not go up too high and your breathing will not become too shallow. When you are in a more relaxed state, your digestive system becomes more efficient, your heart rate slows down and your immune function is more balanced, so you can avoid many kinds of ailments, such as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and different kinds of inflammation. This is the reason why people who sleep well and stay relaxed most of the time tend to live longer and healthier lives. Genetic factors can only contribute so much to our longevity: we can change our gene expression by turning off bad genes and turning on good genes. Balance is the key for a healthier and happier life.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Acupuncture, Dopamine, and Addiction

Dopamine is a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells. It is very prominent in the transmission from the nerve cells of the substantia nigra to those of the corpus striatum, to facilitate smooth, purposeful muscle activity. Dopamine is the immediate metabolic precursor of norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline) and epinephrine (also called adrenaline), i.e., it is the raw material from which the other two chemicals are made. Dopamine can have either an excitatory or inhibitory effect on nerve cells, depending on the characteristics of the protein it combines with.
Dopamine is associated with the perception of pain and pleasure. Increased dopamine in the frontal lobes lessens pain and increases pleasure. If a person naturally has a higher level of dopamine because of a good personality, good genes and a diet, he or she tends to tolerate pain better. That is why even when different people have the same kind of arthritis or back problems, some people have unbearable pain while others have no pain at all. On the TV show House, the foster parents of a girl were suspected of abusing her. Although her body showed many signs of physical abuse, she did not complain about the pain to the physician. One of the residents used a bucket of ice to test her tolerance to coldness. Although the resident started screaming due to the extreme pain induced by the cold ice when he took the test, the little girl stayed very calm. Later, her physicians found out that she had a gene that made her pain threshold above average. She may have had increased amounts of dopamine in her frontal lobes, making her more tolerant to physical pain.
Dopamine is greatly involved in feelings of reward, alertness and purposeful behavior. Dopamine is commonly associated with the 'pleasure system' of the brain, providing feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate us to do, or continue doing certain activities. Dopamine is released by naturally rewarding experiences such as food, sex, the uses of certain drugs and stimuli that become associated with them. In milder disorders, too much dopamine in the limbic system (a network of brain structures) is associated with emotion and memory problems, and not enough in the cerebral cortex may produce an overly suspicious personality prone to bouts of paranoia that may inhibit social interaction.
Alcohol can increase dopamine levels in brain regions collectively called the mesolimbic system by curtailing the enzyme activity that breaks down dopamine. When alcoholics suddenly stop drinking alcohol, their dopamine levels plunge, causing dysphoria, an unpleasant feeling, and anhedonia, the inability to experience the pleasure from normally pleasurable events, such as eating, exercise and social interactions.
The sudden drop of dopamine might contribute to the intense ethanol craving experienced by addicts, explained by Weiss et al. in the Journal of Neuroscience 1996. These ethanol-induced changes in dopamine levels provide positive reinforcement that contributes to continued alcohol abuse. People that have stronger releases of dopamine when they drink alcohol or coffee tend to be addicted to alcohol, especially people who are very smart and do not enjoy social networks. Other people do not have enough enzyme to process alcohol, so they feel stomach pain, nausea, dizzy. A certain group of people will never be able to enjoy alcohol.
Acupuncture at the specific point Ht7 (at the ulnar end of the transverse crease of the wrist, in the depression on the radial side of the tendon of medial flexor carpi ulnaris), but not at control points PC6 (2 inches above transverse crease of wrist, between tendons of medial palmaris longus and medial flexor radialis) or tail, prevented both a decrease of dopamine levels in a specific brain region called the nucleus accumbens during ethanol withdrawal and an increase of dopamine levels induced by an ethanol challenge. Stimulation of Ht7 facilitates normalization of dopamine levels in the brain following chronic ethanol exposure. If people are trying to quit drinking, acupuncture 2 to 3 times a week can help their body stabilize their dopamine level so they do not get depressed or agitated.
Nicotine induces tolerance and addiction by acting on the central dopaminergic pathways (those using dopamine as a neurotransmitter), thus leading to pleasure and reward sensations. It stimulates the central nervous system, enhances alertness and reduces appetite. Many women are reluctant to quit smoking because they are afraid to gain weight. A 50% reduction of nicotine consumption may trigger withdrawal symptoms in addicted individuals including anxiety, anger, sleep disorders, hunger, cognitive dysfunction and cigarette cravings. Certain drugs that inhibit the reuptake of dopamine are used for quitting smoking. However, those drugs can be dangerous to people who have epilepsy, eating disorders, uncontrolled hypertension, recent alcohol abstinence, or are undergoing current therapy with mono-amine oxidase inhibitors (drugs increase norepinephrine and epinephrine levels).
If you have smoked for more than ten years, certain enzyme activities have changed. When you suddenly quit smoking, reduced dopamine levels will make you feel miserable. Ear and body acupuncture can help your body rebalance the brain chemicals, producing more feel-good hormones, such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphin, and reducing stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Acupuncture stimulates your own body to rebalance those complicated hormones instead of just inhibiting or stimulating the metabolism of specific hormones. It is hard to use just one chemical change to explain the response of the entire body.
One lady had smoked a pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years before she started acupuncture treatments. After her best friend died of lung cancer at the age of 50, she finally decided to quit. She had acupuncture twice a week for 6 weeks. Surprisingly, she did not have any withdrawal symptoms or even gain any weight. Another lady had a couple of ear needles for 3 months; she never went back to smoking. Her daughter said that she was extremely surprised because her mother had been a heavy smoker for more than 20 years. However, not everybody has successful stories. Two major factors affecting success are the extent of a person's determination to quit and the busyness of the person's schedule during the quitting process.
Morphine can also induce dopamine release, causing addiction. Acupuncture can suppress Morphine Withdrawal Syndrome. In 2005, Dr. Kim and his colleagues in South Korea reported results of a study on how acupuncture can change dopamine levels and influence behavior in rats sensitized to morphine. They posted their results in the magazine Neuroscience Letter. Acupuncture at the specific acupuncture point HT7, but not at control points (TW8 and tail), significantly decreased both dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens and behavioral hyperactivity induced by a systemic morphine challenge. These results suggest that the therapeutic effect of acupuncture on morphine addiction occurs through normalization of dopamine and reduction of behavioral sensitization by morphine.