By Dr Laurie Teitelman, ND
1. Who is the ideal candidate for acupuncture?
Chinese medicine and acupuncture stimulate and assist the body’s natural healing ability from within. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treats the individual, not the disease. This perspective makes just about anyone an ideal candidate for acupuncture, which for thousands of years, has been used as a safe and effective form of medicine. TCM’s strongest emphasis is on prevention. Treating a person who is already sick is considered an unwise approach to this form of medicine. By treating the whole person holistically, practitioners use herbs, acupuncture and exercises to address all aspects of one’s existence: the physical, spiritual and life energy.
Complications from the clinical application of acupuncture are extremely rare and side effects, if any, are limited. Some patients do not tolerate acupuncture, either because of a needle phobia or the inability to remain in a comfortable position for treatment, such as children (who benefit greatly from acupressure). Septic or extremely weakened patients, those who are uncooperative because of delusions, hallucinations, or paranoia, are likewise unsuitable. Local infections such as cellulitis or loss of skin integrity from burns or ulcerations may preclude certain local treatments. Electroacupuncture (a form of acupuncture in which pairs of acupuncture needles are attached to a device that generates continuous electric pulses between them) should not be applied over the heart or brain or in the region of an implanted electrical device such as a pacemaker or medication pump. Hemophiliacs and others with severe bleeding disorders should be excluded from acupuncture treatment. All others can safely and effectively be treated with acupuncture to address an impressive variety of health conditions, as well as anti-aging, etc.
2. How often does someone need to do acupuncture for it to be effective?
This all depends on the reason that you are getting acupuncture in the first place. In TCM, the five major heart-mind functions are: mental activity (including emotions), consciousness, memory, thinking and sleep. If you are experiencing a concern in one or more of these areas, the heart would be an ideal place to start; however, the whole body is indeed interconnected (a deficiency in one meridian or organ system will indefinitely lead to an excess in another) and we must address the whole person. More often than not, the initial treatment is fairly conservative to ensure that the patient is comfortable and to allow the practitioner to see how they respond to acupuncture. In the most general terms possible, one month of treatment may be necessary for each year that a condition has been active. For example, if you have experienced anxiety for the past four years, you may need approximately four months of treatment before you will see a resolution. If you are experiencing acute back pain, you may receive immediate relief of the acute pain, but may need further maintenance treatments to account for the underlying factors which led to the acute flare-up in the first place.
3. How, from a mechanical standpoint, does acupuncture help with heart health?
From a Western perspective, acupuncture addresses the endorphin system (a group of nerve cells in the brain named after the chemicals these cells transmit to relax muscles, dull pain and reduce panic and anxiety; the endorphin system also has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce cardiovascular workloads and has been called body’s “natural opiate system” because morphine and other opiate drugs affect the same nerve cells) which helps regulate cardiovascular system. From a TCM perspective, the heart rules not only the blood and the blood vessels, but it also controls sweat, commands the emotion joy, manifests in the complexion, and lastly, rules the spirit. Thus, the Chinese call the heart the “king of emotions’’. Many treatment plans will serve to calm the heart, and thus the spirit. The heart is directly involved with blood flow, which is why weakened heart function can lead to a pale face, facial swelling and puffiness. Your therapeutically selected acupuncture points will address not only the deficiencies or excesses in the heart meridian, but will also concurrently balance out the other meridian systems.
4. What are some methods to help with anxiety?
One of my personal favorite anxiety-reducing techniques is deep breathing through an exercise called 5-4-3-2-1 that helps you feel more grounded and present. After all, the best gift you can give yourself is the present! Make sure your feet are flat on the ground and that your inhalations are the same length of time as your exhalations; for instance, aim for 3-4 seconds in and 3-4 seconds out. In a safe, comfortable place, close your eyes to settle in and then reopen. For the 5-4-3-2-1 part, it is all related to bringing you into the present moment using all five of our senses. To yourself, list 5 things that you can see (i.e. my shoes, the painting on the wall, etc.). Now, list 4 things you can hear (such as the truck driving by outside, the phone ringing, etc.). Try to list 3 things you can feel/touch (i.e. the seat you are sitting on, the texture of your sweater, etc.). Then list two things you can smell (i.e. my perfume, the coffee pot, etc.) and finally, 1 thing you can taste (perhaps toothpaste, gum etc.). Keep breathing throughout the exercise, which should take only a few short minutes out of your day. Do this anywhere you are feeling anxious or out of sorts.
There are a variety of safe and effective supplements that can drastically improve feelings of anxiety and cloudiness without the drowsy side effects that typically accompany anti-anxiety prescription medications. Whether it be during the day or in the evening before bed, L-theanine is one of my favorites to address these feelings! This extract from the green tea plant, when taken in the right dosage, should yield results within 20-35 minutes. It even comes in a gum form. Chew on that 😉
5. What impact does anxiety have on heart health and health in general?
Anxiety disorders are associated with many different physical illnesses that can affect one’s overall quality of life, not just their heart. Those who experience anxiety may be more likely to experience one or any of the following: heart disease (including elevated blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels), gastrointestinal disorders (approximately half of all cases of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS, are associated with anxiety), headache (both tension and migraine headaches), respiratory problems (some association with asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis), obesity as well as allergic conditions (such as hay fever, eczema, hives, food allergies and conjunctivitis). Address the root cause and watch your other symptoms vanish…
6. Other useful tips for those with anxiety to look into:
Acupressure is a self-applied version of acupuncture without needles and is a great DIY treatment that you can do yourself at home and use in almost any situation: when you are stressed out at work, have some downtime and want to relax, are feeling anxious, dizzy or nauseous, etc.
TCM Practitioners and Naturopathic Doctors may also use the complex art of analyzing your tongue and pulse to help confirm a diagnosis, whether you are experiencing panic attacks, rapid breathing, palpitations, dizziness, pale complexion, insomnia, etc. Your personalized treatment plan based on your signs and symptoms as well as the information that your body is presenting to the practitioner based on what your tongue looks like and what the pulses at your wrists feel like, will dictate the next plan of action to get you relief ASAP!