Tag Archives: acupuncture

Happy Year of the Goat 2015!

Year of the Goat 2015

The Lunar New Year of the Yin Wood Goat has arrived, and along with it, some confusion as to whether it should be referred to as the Year of the Goat/ Sheep/ Ram. The Chinese characters for goat, sheep, ram, and antelope all include the  羊 yang character: e.g. sheep (绵羊), goat (山羊), ram/buck (公羊 male sheep or goat), 羚羊 (antelope), etc. According to Dr. Sabine Wilms of Happy Goat Productions, a Classical Chinese Medicine and Philosophy scholar, translator, and educator, “when the Chinese came up with these animal associations, they were not thinking Dorset Sheep, but wild mountain sheep, which are much closer in personality and habits to domesticated and wild goats than modern domesticated sheep”.

For those that are unfamiliar with some of the common traditions for celebrating the Lunar New Year, here are 6 Things You Need to Know About the Year of the Goat

According to Lillian Pearl Bridges’s Year of the Sheep Forecast, this year promises to be much more harmonious than the previous year and is a year of “forgiveness and reconciliation” where we should strive to act “assertively rather than aggressively”.

This sounds like a positive direction to take after the more tumultuous events that occurred personally and globally in Year of the Horse.

What are you hoping and planning for this year?

Xin Nian Kuai Le!


Hyperemesis Gravidarum: The silent suffering of a few special mamas-to-be


Hyperemesis gravidarum

Hyperemesis gravidarum: ever heard of it? It wasn’t until Kate Middleton’s first pregnancy was announced that I felt that the general public became more aware of this very serious illness. I too suffered this debilitating condition that left me unable to work, care for my kids, or do even menial jobs for the first five and half months of all three of my pregnancies. This took a tremendous toll not only on me, but also my family and work colleagues as they tried to take on my responsibilities as well as their own. I was vomiting at least 16+/day and this was after having taken digestive enzymes, eating small amounts throughout the day, moving around, and following all the “rules” about how to manage nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Once I was rehydrated and medicated, the vomiting was reduced to 1/4 of its wrath. As Dr. Jennifer Ashton so aptly described to the world: “This is morning sickness like a hurricane is a little bit of rain.”

According to Wikipedia, “Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a complication of pregnancy characterized by intractable nausea, vomiting, and dehydration and is estimated to affect 0.5–2.0% of pregnant women.[1][2] Malnutrition and other serious complications, such as fluid or electrolyte imbalances, may result.

Hyperemesis is considered a rare complication of pregnancy, but because nausea and vomiting during pregnancy exist on a spectrum, it is often difficult to distinguish this condition from the more common form of nausea and vomiting experienced during pregnancy known as morning sickness.”

So what options are available to women such as me and Kate who just can’t keep anything down during pregnancy? Rehydration via an intravenous line, and medications containing vitamin B6 as well as an antihistamine are often used in western medicine, and work to control the severity of the symptoms. Like other mamas-to-be, women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum can take small meals once the condition is more manageable. Eating small amounts of protein and carbohydrates regularly throughout the day, and sipping water separately from meals, can certainly help control the severity of the symptoms and prevent it from spiralling out of control. But only once symptoms are properly managed first. So, if you or a loved one suffers from this, please do what you need to get the situation under control. (For a more in-depth and personal understanding of what a woman with hyperemesis gravidarum feels, this is a great article by Jessica Martin Weber).

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), factors such as the strength of a female’s digestive system and her body’s ability to adjust to changes in hormone levels, as well as the woman’s level of stress and/or emotional state prior to conception, can all contribute to how she will experience a future pregnancy. Ideally, women should be treated with TCM modalities a few months prior to conception to help optimize fertility and pregnancy outcomes, and reduce common symptoms experienced in pregnancy. However, once a woman is pregnant, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) still has an important role to play, especially if she is suffering from symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

Certain therapies that make up Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), such as acupuncture, gua sha, and herbal medicine can all be used. Acupuncture on certain points can be used to treat mild to moderate nausea and vomiting. Gua sha, a form of massage that employs a small tool and utilizes a scraping technique to produce local erythema on the skin, can be performed on the upper back and shoulders for more extreme cases of pregnancy vomiting such as women who experience hyperemesis gravidarum. Chinese herbal remedies can also be taken to help strengthen the body once the woman is able to take food and medications orally. Finally and most importantly, dietary suggestions and recipes are also given that can help the woman stay nourished and healthy during pregnancy despite her symptoms.

For more info, please feel free to contact me directly here or through my clinic site http://www.acupao.com

How Acupuncture Can Heal Your Broken Heart


Ah…Valentine’s Day. It’s a very special day to honour the people you love today. Hopefully, you have been doing your best to do this each and everyday! For some, it may also be a very difficult day that brings painful memories to the surface. If you have suffered a significant loss or breakup, a day like today seems like a pretty good one to avoid. Which is totally acceptable and understandable. A broken heart is a very difficult thing to take care of. But what do you do when you’re ready to move forward and learn to love with an open heart again?

I’m generally a pretty content person. There have been a few times that have really brought me into a period of deep-seated sadness. The loss of my father after battling crazy cancer is one of them. Realizing that you have lost someone who has been a constant in your life is an indescribable feeling. While the initial raw feelings will eventually transform into a more “refined” sense of loss, they leave an indelible print…one that can eventually strengthen or uproot you. These periods of loss and change are times when support from family, friends and your health team are very much in order. For those who have a hard time expressing their emotions verbally with a counsellor and/or friend, Chinese medicine and acupuncture can be very helpful to release you from the incredible sadness that is weighing you down.

Acupuncture serves to unblock stuck energy in the pathways of the body, also known as “meridians”, that are closely connected to the nervous system, immune system, and circulatory system. By using specific points along the affected channels, the body responds by physically relaxing tight, contracted muscles, increasing blood flow to the local and adjacent areas, warming up the torso, limbs and extremities, and calming the mind. The little pins that are inserted are hair-fine in thickness and glide smoothly under the skin. Most people experience an initial mosquito bite sensation followed by a warm / cool tingling sensation around the points. The complete state of deep relaxation that follows is something that not only offers immediate physical and emotional relief, but can help reset long-standing holding patterns and behaviour.

When someone suffers from a broken heart, there may be accompanying symptoms of shock, fear, anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite, low energy, and long-standing grief. Acupuncture can help you address these concerns as well.

In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is said that the Heart (心, pinyin: xīn) is the “Monarch” of all the other organ systems and the whole body. It governs the blood and vessels and stores the Shen (mind). Without the heart, the brain could not function. When the heart is working properly, there is a brightness in the eyes, a sharp memory with a clear and open mind, and a joyful heart. When you look at someone with healthy Shen there is a general feeling of the whole body and spirit being vibrant, healthy and happy. This person radiates such energy and spirit that it is hard to resist them!

Whatever your association with February 14th, let it at least serve as a reminder to take the time to really nurture and care for yourself, whether it be with acupuncture, meditation, prayer, exercise, a nourishing meal, a walk with a friend, a hug from someone you love, or all of the above. After all, you have been gifted with this body and soul that makes you unique. There is no one else like you! So take the time to figure out what you need to help create the best, happiest version of YOU that you can send out into the world.

Natural TCM Cures for Migraine Sufferers

Do you suffer from chronic migraines? If so, you’ve probably already tried to identify the triggers and experimented with medications to see what can put you out of your misery.  You may even be suffering from one now.

Migraines are severe headaches that can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. They can be due to several factors, including but not limited to: chronic stress; poor posture; dehydration; strenuous exercise (including sexual activity), delayed or skipped meals; changes in weather, temperature, and barometric pressure; hormonal fluctuations; smoking; sensitivity to certain foods and drinks (caffeine, sweeteners, red wine, aged cheeses, cold cuts, and other foods containing tyramine), and food additives (such as MSG).

For female migraine sufferers, you may also want to check out this article that describes the effect of salt intake on eliciting a premenstrual migraine and susceptibility when estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a holistic approach is used to address headaches and migraines. The treatments are carefully tailored to your specific set of symptoms and the specific location of your pain. Acupuncture can be used to relieve local and generalized pain areas, reduce stress, and relax tight and sore muscles in the neck, shoulders and back. The most effective way TCM can address migraines is by preventing them from occurring in future. If a migraine is in full swing, one or two points can be very effective in reducing the severity of the pain.

In addition to acupuncture and tuina (massage), treatment for migraines from a TCM perspective would involve observing dietary habits and eliminating aggravating substances, such as the foods listed above, completely. In TCM, these foods are considered “damp and heavy” in nature and can directly contribute to a chronic migraine pattern if left unchecked. One might also be prescribed herbs and dietary therapy to eliminate the “damp” qualities of the foods previously ingested, and improve proper digestion and metabolism.

Common acupressure points for migraines and headache that you can use on yourself are: Yintang, Taiyang, UB2, UB 10, GB 14, GB 20, GB 21, LI4, LV3, ST 40, and GB 41. Apply even pressure with your index finger on the points and any localized areas of pain and move in a circular fashion. You can do this for a few minutes on each point and repeat several times throughout the course of the day. To locate these points yourself, you can refer to this great interactive tool on Qi Journal.com

Natural PMS Cures: Part II

In my last post, I addressed the Top Ten Ways To Relieve PMS Symptoms Naturally

Dr. Mark Hyman, also addresses some of the points I listed and why they affect our monthly cycles in his article in the Huffington Post titled, Eliminate Suffering From PMS in Five Simple Steps

Dr. Christiane Northrup also has some excellent tips accompanied by footnoted research articles to back up her claims on natural relief strategies for Premenstrual Syndrome

She also is a proponent of acupuncture for PMS relief and offers dietary recommendations for PMS which also relate to menstrual cramps and pelvic pain here


Update on Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Regulation in Ontario

Many of you in the health care industry or who receive acupuncture treatment here in Canada are aware that the profession of Traditional Chinese medicine (which includes acupuncture) recently became regulated here in Ontario. This is following along the footsteps of British Columbia (whereas only the acupuncture profession is regulated in Alberta and Quebec).

I am pleased to report that after a fairly long wait, I am officially registered with the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario (CTCMPAO)!!!  To find a registered TCM Practitioner and/or acupuncturist, please refer to the college’s website here: http://www.ctcmpao.on.ca/

It has been a long road to regulation with several bumps along the way (that began way back in 1994).  For more info on the path towards becoming a regulated health care profession, please refer to this page http://www.ctcmpao.on.ca/aboutus/roadtoregulation.html

TCM practitioners receive 4+ years of education specifically in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine and are trained to treat a wide range of general health conditions. Many TCM graduates have previous health care and/or science degrees and often do additional studies and internships to advance their knowledge in a particular field of health (e.g. Fertility, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Cancer, Dermatology, Rheumatology and Sports Medicine).

TCM Practitioners who perform acupuncture are covered by most extended health insurance plans – so please check with your provider if you are interested in receiving quality health care from your local acupuncturist!

The regulation of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture is in the best interests of the public and provides the profession with the legitimacy it needs to advance and become part of integrative healthcare for the residents of Ontario.

Acupuncture for Cancer

The following is an article I had published several years back in Vitality Magazine on March 01, 2007 and which can also be accessed on my clinic blog at www.acupao.com 


Acupuncture for Cancer – Integrating Eastern with Western Medicine

In the fall of 2003, the Canadian Cancer Society held its first symposium on the impact of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the treatment and prevention of cancer. The CCS spokesperson, Cheryl Rill, acknowledged that despite the advances of western medicine in treating cancer, there was still much more to be learned and that the evidence-based society welcomed discussions about cancer from various perspectives.(1)

The multiple benefits of acupuncture
As acupuncture and oriental medicine continue to gain acceptance in the west, they are increasingly being used in conjunction with western conventional medicine to treat a range of conditions, including cancer. Acupuncture in particular has received much attention for its use in cancer pain and post-operative and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. According to an article by Dr. N. Samuels (2002) published in the research journal, Harefuah:

Acupuncture’s use in cancer patients has been recommended by the American Cancer Society (ACS) for the treatment of cancer and treatment-related symptoms. Pain, nausea, breathlessness, vasomotor symptoms and limb edema have all been found to respond to this treatment modality.(2)

Dr. Samuels stated further that acupuncture can act against carcinogens (factors attributable to cancer development) through its ability to reduce stress and enhance immune function.(2) Indeed, several cancer centres have begun incorporating acupuncture for treating cancer-related symptoms such as pain(3) and many patients have had significant results in the reduction of their symptoms.(4)

Before describing how acupuncture can be effectively integrated into the care of the patient, it may be helpful to first gain an appreciation of what cancer is and the various western conventional therapies that are often used in its treatment.

What is cancer?
As one of the leading causes of death in North America, cancer is a disease that few can ignore. It arises from abnormal changes in the genetic make-up of cells that cause them to multiply uncontrollably. The abnormal cells then spread locally or to other regions of the body via the lymphatic or blood circulation. Several factors are believed to trigger the cell mutations that give rise to cancer. These include hereditary susceptibility, immune dysfunction, increasing age, improper dietary intake, extreme stress, hormonal therapy and environmental, infectious, and therapeutic carcinogens (agents that are associated with cancer development).(5,6,7)

Conventional treatment
Common cancer therapies include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and hormonal therapy. While surgery involves the physical removal of tumours, other treatments such as chemotherapy work on inhibiting cell growth and multiplication. All these therapies can be very effective and are often critical components to helping a patient survive. Removing tumours through surgery and radiation can prevent further metastases (cancer spread to other areas of the body) and complications. Unfortunately, these and other treatments can be very difficult for the body to process and recover from. Several of the drugs used in chemotherapy are not only toxic to cancer cells but to healthy cells as well and can cause mild to severe bouts of nausea. By depleting the bone marrow and thus inhibiting the production of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelet cells, chemotherapies can increase a person’s risk of infection, cause fatigue and dizziness, and impair wound healing respectively. Furthermore, chemotherapeutic agents can cause hair loss and skin rashes from damage to the cells of the hair follicles and skin.(5,6,7) Hormonal drugs such as tamoxifen (used in the treatment of breast cancer), have also been shown to increase the risk of thrombosis (blood clotting) and endometrial cancer.(7)

Therapies such as gamma knife radiotherapy and cyberknife involve focused radiation to a particular part of the body and are sometimes offered as an alternative to surgery. In addition, newer chemotherapeutic drugs promise less toxicity and fewer side effects than ever before (5,6,7). These advances are indeed encouraging. So where, you might ask, does acupuncture and oriental medicine fit in?

Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which consists of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tuina (Chinese massage therapy), nutrition, counselling, and physical exercise (such as Tai Qi and Qi Gong), is a comprehensive medical system based on over three thousand years of experience. The earliest drawings of tumours have been found on turtle shells and “oracle bones” from the eleventh century B.C. Texts dating from 200 B.C. have detailed descriptions of the quality of tumours and their cause.(8)

Similar to conventional western medicine, TCM attributes cancer to one or a combination of factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Cancer is the accumulation of external or internal factors or both, that create disharmony in the normal functioning of the body, and combine to produce a diseased state (8,9). In ancient texts, it was believed that factors such as extreme cold and intense sadness could also lead to unhealthy conditions such as cancer.(8) When treating patients, the TCM physician takes a complete inventory of the person and considers such things as musculoskeletal abnormalities, energy level, body temperature, complexion, sleep, appetite, diet, digestive functioning, emotions, and overall lifestyle.

As described by Gordon and Curtis (2000) in Comprehensive Cancer Care, Traditional Chinese Medicine takes a holistic approach to the treatment of cancer:

The traditional Chinese medicinal treatment of cancer is based on the principle of fu zheng gu ben. Roughly speaking, fu zheng means strengthening what is correct, the qi, the forces in the body regulating normal healthy development. Gu ben refers to strengthening and enhancing the processes of regeneration and repair, which Chinese medicine locates in the kidney. Traditional treatment includes removing toxins that may contribute to cancer, increasing the flow of blood and qi, removing undesirable accumulations of tissue that are the tumor, and restoring self-regulation and balance among the jing, shen, and qi. The means that are used-acupuncture, herbal and nutritional therapies, tai chi, qi gong, tui na, and counselling-are each designed to further one or more aspects of this process.(8)

Acupuncture for various stages of cancer
For conditions where the cancer is detected early, acupuncture can maintain and promote the normal functioning of the body.(10) Several studies done primarily on animals have shown its ability to boost the immune system and encourage the growth of healthy functioning cells.(3) This could be important for counteracting the result of radiation and chemotherapy that tend to attack both normal and abnormal cells. An additional benefit of acupuncture is that it can induce a state of deep calm and relaxation and alleviate physical and emotional tensions.

In cases where a tumour has formed, acupuncture can be used pre- and post-operatively where appropriate as an adjuvant therapy to surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.(10) According to a study done by Poulain (1997) on 250 patients who underwent gynaecological surgery for cancer, acupuncture was shown to speed recovery time.(11) A recent study done by Aldridge (2001) on a series of 40 breast cancer patients, found that acupuncture could reduce nausea and vomiting following surgery and significantly reduce post-operative pain.(12)

For advanced stages of cancer, acupuncture can be used in conjunction with other forms of palliative care to significantly reduce the sensation of pain.(10) In some cases, patients may be able to reduce the dosage of pain medication substantially and thereby avoid the harsh side effects that are often associated with them.(11)

How does acupuncture work? The eastern and western explanations
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the body is composed of an intricate web of energy pathways known as “meridians”. The twelve regular and eight extra meridians help to maintain a balance of yin (substances which nourish the body) and yang (related to activity and function) within the body. Each meridian is named after the specific internal organ that it encompasses and through which it passes. Through these meridians, the internal and external aspects of the body are connected.

When “qi” (vital energy) and “xue” (blood) flow freely through the meridians, the body is in good health and can perform at its optimum. However, if a particular energy pathway does not function properly, the flow of “qi” and “xue” can become obstructed, hyperactive (excessive), hypoactive (deficient) or even flow in reverse. This can affect the function of the meridian’s corresponding organs, which causes an imbalance of the body’s yin and yang, and ultimately affects the functioning of the body as a whole.

From a TCM perspective, acupuncture stimulates specific points on the body where energy collects and flows through the meridians and regulates the overall flow of energy so that the body can return to a state of balance and health.

From a western medical perspective, the insertion of hair-fine sterile and disposable needles into the subcutaneous layers of the skin can have profound influences on several regulatory systems. When used correctly, acupuncture has neurophysiological affects (3) that can release pain-reducing endorphins; affect the metabolism of serotonin, a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that affects both pain perception and mood; and improve circulation and immune function.(8) Acupuncture specifically works to relieve nausea by releasing chemicals that control the vomiting centre in the brain as well as decreasing acid secretion and inhibiting abnormal gastric contractions.(13)

So why are the needles inserted in specific places? According to Bruera and Portenoy’s Cancer Pain: Assessment and Management (2004), studies on acupoints have shown that:

Many acupuncture points are also palpably detectable hollows or anatomical tissue planes, which in Western theory, may signify easily influenced zones of lymphaticoneurovascular bundles in the subcutaneous tissue. Peripheral endings of cranial and spinal nerves, and penetrations of neurovascular bundles through superficial fascia, have been cited as morphological findings of acupuncture points.(14)

What to expect from an acupuncture treatment
Though the insertion of needles under the skin might not sound appealing, the reality is that the fine needles cause little discomfort or pain since they are inserted below the skin layer. Once the needles are inserted, patients may feel a dull, heavy sensation accompanied by a slight tingling or numbness in the local area of insertion, that usually dissipates within a few moments. The needles are then retained for approximately twenty minutes. Most people find this experience to be quite relaxing and some may even fall asleep. After the acupuncture session, the practitioner may also use other modalities such as tuina (Chinese massage therapy) to complete the treatment. For chronic conditions such as cancer, treatments will be regular (at least once or twice a week) and adjusted according to the particular condition a person is in.

Some final thoughts
Cancer is not a death sentence. It is a life-changing experience not only for those who have it, but for others as well. Educating ourselves as to what options are available for treatment and overall healing can only improve our opportunities to live a healthier and happier life.

From providing adjuvant therapy for pain and associated emotional aspects relating to cancer, to treating side-effects such as nausea and decreased immunity arising from the more toxic and invasive conventional treatments, acupuncture and oriental medicine are invaluable resources that can guide the body towards a healthier state.

Our current medical system in the west comes from a background of reductionism, where we reduce a person to the sum of their body parts. This means that when treating a patient, there is a tendency to deal with the parts rather than the whole. Furthermore, our focus in health care has in large part been on treatment rather than prevention. While these views have their place, a more pronounced shift towards prevention, treating the whole person, and allowing an individual’s natural healing abilities to take part in the healing process, is necessary if we truly want to promote health. Here is where the integration of eastern with western medicine can truly make a difference.

“Alas! The way of healing is so profound. It is deep as the oceans and boundless as the skies. How many truly know it?”-Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine).(15)


  1. Vancouver Hosts Symposium on Traditional Chinese Medicine and Cancer http://www.Acupuncturetoday.com. Accessed February 18, 2004.
  2. Samuels N (2002) Acupuncture for cancer patients: why not? (article in Hebrew) Harefuah. 141(7):608-610, 666. Click here. Accessed March 17, 2004.
  3. Filshie J, Thompson JW. Acupuncture. In: Doyle D, Hanks G, Cherry N, Calman K editors. (2004)Oxfordtextbook of palliative medicine-3rd ed. NY: Oxford University Press. P. 410-424, 1093.
  4. Johnstone PA, Polston GR, Niemtzow RC, Martin PJ (2002) Integration of acupuncture into the oncology clinic. Palliat Med. 16(3):235-9 Click here. Accessed March 6, 2004
  5. What is Cancer? Click here. Accessed Feb. 18, 2004.
  6. Holmes, HN (2001) Professional guide to diseases. 7th ed. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corporation.
  7. Tierney LM, McPhee SJ, Papdakis MA (2004) Current medical diagnosis and treatment 2004. 43rd ed. NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies Incorporated.
  8. Gordon JS, Curtin S (2000) Comprehensive cancer care: integrating alternative, complementary, and conventional therapies. NY: Persus Publishing.
  9. Li P (2003) Management of cancer with chinese medicine.St. Albans,UK: Donica Publishing Limited.
  10. Mak E. Acupuncture in Cancer Treatment. Click here. Accessed Feb. 18, 2004
  11. Poulain P, Pichard Leandri E, Laplanche A, Montagne F, Bouzy J, and Truffa-Bachi J (1997) Electroacupuncture analgesia in major abdominal and pelvic surgery: a randomized study. Acupuncture in Medicine. XV (1), 10-13.
  12. Aldridge S. Acupuncture helps breast cancer patients (abstract). American Society of Anaesthesiologists Annual Scientific Session, 2001.
  13. Samuels N (2003) Acupuncture for nausea: how does it work? (article in Hebrew) Harefuah. 142 (4):297-300, 316. Click here. Accessed March 17, 2004.
  14. Bruera ED, Portenoy RK (2004) Cancer pain: assessment and management. NY:CambridgeUniversityPress.
  15. Ni M (1995) The yellow emperor’s classic of internal medicine: a new translation of the neijing suwen with commentary.Boston,MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.