AOMA believes strongly in leadership. One feature of that value is the knowledge of each other’s story. Director of Community Relations, Sarah Bentley, interviews Doctoral Program of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Director Dr. John S. Finnell to gain insight on the journey to his role within the AOMA community.
Please briefly describe your background and where you’re from.
I was born in Odessa and raised in Plano, Texas, and my family roots are laid down in Holiday and Archer City. I consider myself fortunate to have experienced life in other cultures, like Seattle, Spain, Sweden and Poland. I also learned much from my travels throughout North America, other parts of Europe and Latin America. Never lose sight of where you’re from, because it leads to where you’re going!
Please briefly describe your path to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
From the start, I was faced with my own health challenges and spent my formative years in and out of surgery, casts and braces for correction of clubbed-feet. I think that it was a fire sparked at age seven by my orthopedist, who fated me with being pigeon-toed for the rest of my life, that led me to Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was that fire that fueled my intention to walk for years with my feet outward, until one day I became aware that they were straight. It is that same spark and fire that we cultivate in our patients that inspires their intention to heal from within.
Please briefly describe your career path so far in the field of acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
After undergraduate studies in chemistry and graduate studies in environmental engineering and sustainable infrastructure, I spent five years pursuing a career as an environmental contractor, primarily for the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the direct experience of investigating the most toxic places in our environment that inspired me to alter my focus from remediation of environmental health disasters to helping others regain their health and live in balance on this planet. Upon completing my Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and MS in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Bastyr University, I embarked post-doctoral training in complementary and alternative medicine research, sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). During my postdoc, I conducted a clinical trial on vitamin D and Klotho (a marker of aging) and completed a master of public health in epidemiology at the University of Washington. I also worked on developing bio-molecular models of metabolism and aging for application to research in Oriental medicine. I likewise completed a clinical research residency at the TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California, where I studied the safety of medically supervised water-fasting. In addition to my scholarly activities, I had a thriving medical practice at the Seattle Nature Cure Clinic, in which I integrated care with both Naturopathic and Oriental medicines.
Talk about the benefits of doctoral education in acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
I truly feel that my doctoral and post-graduate education have broadened my understanding of the challenges that we humans face living on God’s green earth. Doctoral training does provide the rare opportunity for us to explore our intellectual passions and create a new body of knowledge as the fruit of our scholarship. While a doctoral degree in acupuncture alone does not confer success, it does provide one with a credential to fill leadership positions within academia, act as the principle investigator on NIH funded research, teach at the doctoral level, and oversee doctoral-level clinical education. I am passionate about understanding the Naturopathic concept of the vital force ‘the Vis,’ and the Chinese concept of ‘Qi.’ I believe that these are more than concepts and that they are in fact measurably reflected in human physiology. It was my doctoral and post-graduate education that gave me the tools and vocabulary needed for my lifelong pursuit of exploring and understanding these concepts so fundamental to Naturopathic and Chinese medicines. Actualizing requires a few key ingredients: vision, action, perseverance, belief, and transformation. All of these ingredients may be found as you pursue your own dreams. My doctoral, and post-graduate, education provided the platform upon which I actualized mine.
What has been the most transformational experience you’ve had since starting on the path of Chinese medicine?
In 1993, while visiting the medical school at the University of Washington, a dear friend of mine, who knew of my passion for herbal medicine and the environment, suggested that I visit a small herbal medicine school in Seattle. I replied, “I am serious about my education!,” and was led, instead, to pursue graduate education and a career as an environmental engineer, thus sealing the first turn of my fate. Ten years later, I again began the pursuit of medical education, and another dear friend, knowing my holistic sensibilities, suggested that I instead consider a small acupuncture school in Austin. Now this is where it gets interesting! By the end of that same day, I came across a dual degree program in holistic medicine – a marriage of all that I was seeking. Thereafter, I embarked upon the second turn of my fate, and I set my intention to bring the knowledge that I gained in Naturopathic and Chinese medicines back to Texas. The scents of Seattle brought forth the memory and realization that I was attending that same ‘small herbal medicine school in Seattle’ – Bastyr University. Ten years later, with the fulfillment of my intention to bring the fruits of my pursuit of Naturopathic and Chinese medicines back to Texas, I now embark on the third turn of my fate at the ‘small acupuncture school in Austin.’ I would say that the dance between my early indoctrination and my life’s calling led to my most transformational experience, which was accepting my fate and pursuing it with all of my heart. It is no mystery that fate has guided me back to AOMA, and the future is full of possibilities.
Please share some accomplishments with us. What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of pursuing my dreams, despite the dreams that others may have for me. Whether it was my orthopedist telling me that I would be pigeon-toed for the rest of my life, mentors telling me to just become an MD and change the system from within, or deans telling me that I was ‘crazy’ to study Naturopathic and Chinese medicines and pursue further training in public health and research: I had a vision and put it into action; I lost sleep but persevered; I believed with all of my heart; and lo and behold I transformed into the dream. Though some may say that we have more than one life to live, I live as if I have just the one. I hope that everyone has the chance to fulfill their dreams as I have.
Tell us one unexpected thing about yourself.
I come from a musical family, and spent my early years mastering the trombone, baritone and tuba. I may be considered the black sheep in my family for turning away from a career in music, but my family does appreciate having a doctor around. Something unexpected – you may have heard me playing tuba or bass-trombone in a Dixieland jazz band on the streets of Stockholm!
Many nurses have the desire to practice alternative medicine in an autonomous setting, but feel limited by traditional healthcare systems. More importantly, they want patients to have access to all treatment options possible for their condition.
Nurses are respected in their field, and have the potential to integrate eastern and western medicine in clinics and hospitals. RNs who have taken Chinese medicine courses benefit by creating new potential career paths for themselves, enriching their professional lives through the practice of Western or Chinese medicine or an integration of the two.
Casey Romero is a registered nurse and a graduate student at AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine. Romero’s original goal was to attend a graduate-level nursing program, but a visit to Austin in 2008 changed her education path.
On a visit to AOMA with her grandmother, who was receiving acupuncture in AOMA’s clinic, Romero was amazed to discover that there was actually a place to take Chinese medicine courses and at the same time apply the knowledge to her nursing practice. By the end of her grandmother’s acupuncture treatment that day, she found herself in the admissions office.
“I knew at that moment that I really wanted to be a part of the integration of Western and Chinese medicine,” said Romero.
Quality care for patients
Combining prior nursing education with Chinese medicine courses like those in the master’s degree program at AOMA gives nurses a unique skillset that can immediately translate into better care for their patients.
Patients benefit when their nurses have taken courses in Chinese medicine because it gives nurses additional tools and understanding of physical conditions and ailments, and alternatives for treatment.
Romero says, “Having a solid knowledge base on pharmaceuticals, I believe I will have an advantage when it comes to understanding herb/drug interactions and patient safety. Physical assessments of patients are also important, and as a nurse, I have that experience already.”
A career in acupuncture and Chinese medicine provides nurses the opportunity to work as independent health care providers. AOMA graduates are working in private practice, multidisciplinary clinics, hospitals, substance abuse treatment facilities, hospice, oncology centers, community acupuncture clinics, military/veterans facilities, sports teams, and corporate wellness programs.
The entry-level standard to become a licensed acupuncturist is a master’s degree in acupuncture & Oriental medicine. In addition to coursework in acupuncture, herbal medicine, and extensive clinical education, the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) requires graduate programs to include biomedical science as part of the curriculum.
In general, western medical professionals like nurses, medical doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors are often able to transfer many courses completed as part of their medical degree programs towards a master’s degree in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. While transferring in such coursework may not necessarily shorten the duration of a degree program, it can lighten a student’s overall credit hour load, allowing students to devote more study-time to their Chinese medicine courses and to work part-time while in school. Being able to transfer-in previous biomedical science courses can also potentially reduce the cost of a degree program.
The doctoral program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine at AOMA begins in July, 2013. The two-year program is has a modular format, coupling week-long, intensive, on-campus learning experiences with extended periods of home study, allowing working professionals to continue their practice while enrolled. Here are the specific dates for the academic calendar.
AOMA’s vision of scholarship focuses upon advanced clinical specialists, collaborators, educators, researchers, and leaders. “A doctoral program at AOMA builds upon the strong master’s program providing our graduates and other practitioners with an opportunity to realize their dreams,” according to President William Morris.
The AOMA community has a passion for quality, excellence and deep self-reflection. As a result, since its founding in 1993, AOMA has grown by every important measure from its student body, faculty, accreditation and campus facilities to patients and community outreach.
The doctoral program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine provides a specific example of AOMA’s search for quality and depth, which is reflected in the status as the second regionally accredited DAOM program in the U.S. President Morris paused for consideration, "This achievement signifies AOMA’s passion, commitment and care for its mission of transforming lives and communities."
All doctoral programs in acupuncture and Oriental medicine are post-graduate clinical doctorates. AOMA sought input from its surrounding communites of interest and created a program that focuses upon the management and care of patients with pain and associated psycho-social disorders.
In January, AOMA hired the director of the doctoral program in acupuncture and oriental medicine, Dr. John S. Finnell. Dr. Finnell is an accomplished researcher and skilled health care practitioner with a rich academic and professional background. Prior to beginning his career in integrative medicine, Dr. Finnell completed a Masters of Science in environmental engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. His interest in lifestyle and environmental determinants of health then lead him to earn a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and a Masters of Science in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine from Bastyr University, as well as a Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. As a practitioner of Naturopathic and Chinese medicines, Dr. Finnell’s clinical focus is on nutrition, pharmacognosy, herb-drug interactions, mind-body medicine and qigong as well as translational medicine, disease prevention, and lifestyle education.
In addition to maintaining a professional Naturopathic and Chinese medicine practice, Dr. Finnell has also completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and served as the acting Director of Research for the True North Health Foundation. He has lead and participated in numerous research studies, including “Vitamin D and Aging: Unraveling the Regulatory Axis between Vitamin D and Klotho”, funded by NCCAM (2009-2012), and “A Comparative Effectiveness Trial of High-quality Vitamin D3 Nutritional Supplements to Replete Serum Vitamin D”, funded by the Diabetes Action Research & Education Foundation (2009-2011). A frequent presenter at professional conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada, his work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. Dr. Finnell’s strong research background and clinical experience as Naturopathic and Chinese medicine practitioner enable him to bring an evidence-based and integrative perspective to AOMA’s doctoral program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
Our society is bombarded with the latest designer diet every day. There are so many ways to approach the topic of healthy eating: multi-vitamins, probiotics, fiber, etc. But are all these supplements and foods appropriate for your body? What does your body really need?
A holistic philosophy, like the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach to nutrition, would be to listen to what your body is asking for and not to subscribe to advertisements or trendy diets. Eat what YOU need. But how do you know the difference in what you need and what you crave?
There are many unique body types according to traditional Chinese medicine. This isn’t the same as eating right for your blood type (possibly another trend). Simply put, what may be healthy for your friend may not really be the best nutrition for your body or your digestion. Take fiber as an example: people suffering from constipation need to eat lots of green leafy vegetables. But too much fiber would not be good for someone who has loose stools or even worse, suffers from something like ulcerative colitis, or bloody stools. See recommendations for colitis below.
So, how can you find out what your body type is? Do you run cold or hot? Do you have a tendency towards constipation or loose stools? Are you overweight or underweight? These are a few of the factors in defining your unique body type or constitution. It is recommended to contact a licensed acupuncturist for a consultation.
What foods do I need?
How can you find out what types of foods are best for you? Through a comprehensive medical history questionnaire, and tongue and pulse diagnosis, TCM practitioners strive to determine the differentiation pattern of each person to make a unique treatment plan and dietary recommendations. Depending on the diagnosis, a TCM practitioner can suggest foods based on the treatment for these TCM patterns.
For instance, many hypertension cases can have the differentiation pattern of hyperactive Liver yang. Suggested foods would be those that help to clear heat and reduce hyperactive yang. Someone with high blood pressure (caused by hyperactive Liver yang) would do well to drink a cup of juice made from fresh celery and tomato every morning. Of course, there are many other food recommendations for hypertension. For more about TCM treatment of hypertension, read our previous blog post.
Healing with Whole Foods
Many practitioners of Chinese medicine would agree that Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Whole Foods is considered the bible of TCM nutrition and use it as a resource. You can look up the properties of specific foods along with recipes for the foods. The book also addresses seasonal and environmental connections according the TCM philosophy, organ systems, disease syndromes, and recommendations for chronic imbalances.
Here’s an excerpt from the book about colitis and enteritis:
These inflammations of the colon and small intestine can be generated by emotional repression and the related energy stagnation of the liver…Typical symptoms of intestinal inflammation include abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding in severe cases. Because food is not being properly absorbed, there is often weight loss and weakness.
In intestinal inflammations of all types, chewing food well breaks it down better so that it is less irritating, stimulates proper pancreatic secretion, and provides well-insalivated complex carbohydrates which as like a healing salve on the intestinal coating. Raw food is not tolerated because it easily irritates delicate surfaces of inflamed intestines. Many of the symptoms of enteritis and colitis can be caused by dairy intolerances, which are sometimes merely intolerances to the poor quality of the dairy products used.
At this point Pitchford refers to a section of the book on dairy recommendations which include:
Full fat milk (avoid low-fat dairy)
Goat’s milk is preferred
Raw milk (if available)
Soured and fermented products: yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, etc
Avoid homogenized milk
Simple idea: Listen to your body.
With so many mixed messages in the media about the “miracle” diet, it’s not a wonder that we are confused about what to eat. By following some simple ideas based on a holistic approach to nutrition and listening to your body, you can discover what your body really needs to thrive as YOU.
Author: Dr. Violet Song’s medical practice focuses on female disorders, stress, insomnia, hormonal disorders, respiratory diseases, facial acupuncture, as well as pediatric herbal consultations. She also has a passion for dietary and Chinese herbal consultations.
1. Write to your insurance company and your employer
If you have an insurance plan that doesn’t cover acupuncture one of the best things you can do is to write a letter to your insurance company, and to your Human Resources representative if you receive insurance benefits through your employer. Your insurance company can make changes at the next renewal of your policy or risk losing your business, and often your employer is involved in choosing which benefits will be included in a corporate-sponsored insurance policy.
Over the past several months AOMA has been spearheading a letter-writing campaign to national insurance companies and local employers, petitioning them to open their networks more fully to acupuncture coverage. To participate in AOMA’s letter-writing campaign please contact email@example.com and we can provide you with a form letter to send, or call 512-492-3076. You can also speak to a clinic receptionist at your next appointment and they will provide you with a form letter and a stamped envelope. If you would like to give your feedback to your insurance company over the phone or electronically, detailed contact information can usually be found on the back of your insurance card.
NOTE: Some insurance companies like Cigna and Aetna have closed networks, meaning they place restrictions on allowing new providers to join. If you are insured with one of these companies you can write a letter petitioning them to open their networks up to AOMA’s providers and allowing you to use your insurance benefits at the AOMA Professional Clinics.
Thank you in advance for helping AOMA transform new lives and communities!
2. Encourage friends and co-workers to write letters.
If you receive insurance benefits through your employer this is especially important because you need to let your company know that there is a high demand for acupuncture coverage among its employees! With large numbers of employees touting the benefits of acupuncture and asking for it to be a covered service, an employer is more likely to research acupuncture and consider adding it to the company insurance plan.
3. Get involved with acupuncture activism.
Getting involved with acupuncture activism can range from things as simple as signing your name to a petition to joining acupuncturists and acupuncture supporters for demonstration rallies. The Texas Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (TAAOM) website has information about upcoming events and governmental affairs relating to the practice of acupuncture, or you can contact them for more information on how you can help!
4. Talk to your acupuncturist.
If your insurance company places restrictions on the acupuncture coverage on your policy (ex. Acupuncture for treatment of pain only, a small number of covered visits per year, etc.) please talk to your acupuncturist. They may be able to help you navigate the confusing world of insurance and acupuncture, and can possibly help you get coverage for additional treatments. If you are a patient of AOMA please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any help communicating with your insurance company or understanding your benefits.
5. Change your insurance policy or company.
If you purchase your own insurance it may be relatively simple for you to change your individual policy, add coverage for alternative medicine, or even switch your insurance company. If you receive insurance through your employer, talk to your Human Resources representative to find out if there are different plan types for you to choose from. However, most insurance policies are purchased annually and can only be changed during annual renewal or open enrollment periods.
It's no secret that the program at AOMA is rigorous and challenging. Acupuncture school will challenge you to discover your full potential as a student, as a healer, and ultimately as a professional practitioner. Though not easy, this truly transformational journey is meaningful and provides the foundation to building a successful career after school.
To become an acupuncturist, you must attend an accredited acupuncture school, take comprehensive national board exams and upon passing them, apply for licensure in the state where you want to practice. It takes most people an average of four years to get through acupuncture school. A master ’s degree in acupuncture is the current entry- level standard for the profession. A few schools also offer doctoral programs in Oriental medicine (DAOM), which would add a couple of more years.
There is increasing scientific evidence proving the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of medical ailments including chemotherapy-induced nausea, autoimmune disorders, chronic back pain, hypertension and allergic rhinitis.
Coverage of acupuncture by major health insurance plans is also on the rise, and compared to traditional Western medicine, acupuncture and Chinese medicine are less expensive.
Acupuncture can also decrease reliance on prescription drugs, making it a safe, affordable and accessible healing modality.
A Growing Industry
The use of acupuncture is on the rise in the United States. Between 1997 and 2007 the number of visits among adults nearly tripled, rising from 27.2 to 79.2 per 1,000 adults.
According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately 3.1 million adults in the United States used acupuncture in 2006, a 47 percent increase from the 2002 estimate.
Coverage of acupuncture by major health insurance plans is also on the rise, and compared to traditional Western medicine, acupuncture and Chinese medicine are less expensive. Acupuncture can also decrease reliance on prescription drugs, making it a safe, affordable and accessible healing modality.
The demand for acupuncture could soon outweigh the number of practitioners that can currently fulfill that demand. There are many possibilities for acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioners. National Association of Advisors for the Health Care Professions, “The future of AOM is bright with great opportunity for graduates in this field.”
There are many possibilities for students who graduate from acupuncture school. Most chose to work in private practice or work with a group of practitioners, like a massage therapist or chiropractor, at a holistic health or rehabilitation center. As acupuncture is growing in demand, opportunities to work in pain management clinics and hospitals are becoming more available. The military is also becoming more open to employing acupuncturists to research post-traumatic stress which has shown positive results for treating veterans.
There are also opportunities to travel with acupuncture by working for groups such as Acupuncturists without Borders or island hopping on cruise ships. Many students have done this right after graduating from acupuncture school as a sort of working vacation.
Credentials and Recognition
After graduating from acupuncture school you have to take board exams and apply for licensure. Most US states require national board certification for licensure. The NCCAOM administers the national board examinations for the profession. Each state has unique licensure and scope of practice regulations. In many states, candidates for licensure must demonstrate their diagnostic and technical clinical skill that they learned in acupuncture school. There currently is no standardization of licensure, for example, in Texas the license is called "Licensed Acupuncturist", whereas in Florida it is called "Acupuncture Physician" and in New Mexico it is called "Doctor or Oriental Medicine" (DOM).
Fulfilling and Lucrative Career
According to the U.S. Department of Labor National Center for O*NET Development median
wages for an acupuncturist are $33.98 hourly, $70,690 annual. Recent graduates should keep in mind that statistics show that it takes 2-5 years for a new practice to get established. Factors like location, style of practice, and clinical specialties can all impact expected earnings.
Hypertension is a series of clinical symptoms marked by increase of blood pressure in the arteries of blood circulation, according to the criteria suggested by the World Health Organization. Adults with systolic pressure greater than 140 mmHg and/or diastolic pressure greater than 90 mmHg can be diagnosed with hypertension (the result of three tests taken intermittently in one day).
How does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnose hypertension?
Hypertension is similar to dizziness and vertigo in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is usually thought to be caused by emotional factors, constitutional deficiencies, diet and stress that lead to an imbalance of yin and yang in the liver, spleen and kidney*. Eventually this can result in hyperactivity of liver fire, or phlegm disturbing the upper, or frequent weakness of kidney yin and the failure of yin to control yang.
How does TCM usually treat hypertension?
It is essential to differentiate hypertension which is caused by excess from that which is caused by deficiency. TCM usually treats hypertension with body acupuncture, ear acupuncture, and herbs, but depending on the cause, the acupuncture points selected, techniques, and herbs will be different. The treatment for the excess type is to calm the liver to stop wind, eliminate fire and resolve phlegm. For hypertension caused by deficiency the approach is to replenish qi and blood, while nourishing the liver and kidney.
Case Study – Mr. High
Mr. High, 65 years old, has been diagnosed with hypertension for 10 years. He told Dr. Tan that he was experiencing dizziness, headaches, red eyes, a bitter taste in his mouth, restlessness, irritability, and poor sleep. He came for acupuncture twice a week for a month and was prescribed Chinese herbs.
Dr. Tan used the following acupuncture points: GB 20, LI 11, LI 4, SP10, ST 40, LR 3, and HT7. His herbal prescription was a modified Longdan Xiegan Tang formula. One month after the treatment, all his symptoms were relieved and his blood pressure was stabilized.
Dr. Tan’s Tips
Dr. Tan also recommends qigong exercises to help his body to regain the balance of yin and yang, calm the liver, eliminate fire, and replenish qi and blood. From a TCM perspective, it would also be better for hypertensive patients to eat more fruits and vegetables and less greasy and spicy food. Also it is advisable to avoid seafood which from the TCM perspective is stimulating and cold in nature. Food that is cold in nature promotes dampness and phlegm, which can make dizziness and vertigo worse. Fish is relatively better than shrimp and crab.
Herbal Foot Soak
This herbal foot soak can help to relieve vertigo, tinnitus, headache, limb numbness, and insomnia. To prepare the foot soak, cut the herb Gouteng (Gambir vine stems) into small pieces and wrap in a cloth with a littleBingpian (Borneol) and steep them in warm water. Soak the feet twice a day after getting up and before going to bed, 30-45 minutes each time and 10 days as a treatment course. These herbs require an herbal prescription.
Unique Herbal Prescriptions
Patients who suffer from high blood pressure should make an appointment with a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist as every person is unique. The practitioner will take a full medical history and do pulse and tongue diagnosis to determine the best acupuncture plan and herbal prescription.
*organs in italics refer to meridians in Chinese medicine, not actual organs.
Dr. Shengyan ‘Grace’ Tan is a faculty member at AOMA and sees patients in the professional clinic.
The military seems to be leading the pack with the use of acupuncture in the treatment of psychosocial pain. To be more specific, the US Army has implemented several programs incorporating complementary and alternative medicine to treat symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). One of these programs happens to be right here in Texas at Ft. Hood. The program is titled Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program (WCSRP).
The WCSRP is an eleven week program combining the use of traditional Western therapies with traditional Eastern approaches to treat soldiers with PTSD symptoms. Various methods of complementary medicine are offered, such as acupuncture, massage, reflexology, sound therapy, meditation, reiki/bio-energy therapies, as well as mind-body practices such as yoga and tai chi. The WCSRP is a time-intensive program, requiring soldiers to show up every day for the first three weeks, participate in group-counseling, as well as individual counseling, and determine an individualized treatment plan incorporating complementary treatment methods which then continues over the following eight weeks.
Due to the success of programs like the WCSRP, there is growing support to make complementary medicine a standard in psychosocial treatment programs.
The views expressed in article titled "Acupuncture Used in Military Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program" (January 2013 AOMA Blog) are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Marines, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations herein are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marines, and the U.S. Navy.
A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is the rapid loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to lack of blood flow or a hemorrhage. Depending on the area of the brain that is affected patients may suffer from an inability to move one or more limbs on one side of the body, an inability to understand or formulate speech, or an inability to see one side of the visual field.
Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol,smoking, old age, previous stroke, and atrial fibrillation. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor of stroke. It is the third leading cause of death in the US, behind heart disease and cancer. Stroke affects more than 700,000 individuals annually in the United States. About 500,000 of these are first attacks, and 200,000 are recurrent attacks.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used to prevent and treat the stroke patients.
Chinese medicine can be very helpful for preventing stroke and its associated risk factors. Acupuncture and herbs can help offset the systemic imbalances that contribute to stroke. These are issues such as long-term emotional and physical stress, being overworked, poor diet and dietary habits such as eating too fast, at odd hours, etc. and an overall lack of relaxation. Of course, the patient has to be willing to adapt their lifestyle, too.
On the rehabilitative side, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can improve muscular strength, muscle tone, speech disorder, and swallowing function. I usually choose points on Liver and Kidney channels since there are most commonly involved channels in stroke. However, different patients have their own characteristics. I will make a differential diagnosis for each stroke patient based on the stroke history and manifestation from tongue and pulse. In addition, I typically use scalp needles and attach mild electrical stimulation to the needles to speed-up the recovery.
As an acupuncturist and physician, I worked at the neurological center in China Sichuan State Hospital & Sichuan Provincial Academy of Medical Science for 13 years, where I treated 30-40 stroke patients daily in ICU and the regular wards.
A stroke patient came to see me in the AOMA clinic with his wife two weeks after the onset of the stroke. I could feel how stressed the couple was. The patient once was very happy with a positive attitude to his life. When he came into my office he was so depressed. He couldn’t walk, speak, or dress himself. After collecting all the medical history from him and his wife, I observed his tongue and felt his pulse. Then I gave a therapeutic plan for him. One month later, he already started walking and his fingers could grasp tightly. His life attitude completely changed. He is happy again after realizing that he can live normally under my care.
Sometimes, during the acupuncture treatment, I will give some Chinese herbs based on individual needs. For certain people the herbs can be very helpful in stroke recovery. I also give dietary recommendations to each patient to make sure the risk factors of stroke are under strict control and patient’s diet is balanced and healthy.
Dr. Nelson Song Luo is a faculty member at AOMA and sees patients in the professional clinic.
Fu Fang Ban Lan Gen Chong Ji (granule of Isatis root formula) contains Nan ban lan gen (Southern Isatis Root), Pu gong ying (Dandelion), Zi hua di ding (Herba Violae), and cane sugar. It’s primary function is to clear toxic heat, or in lay terms flu symptoms like fever, sore throat, yellow phlegm, etc.
We often have patients come in with fever and sore throat who see quick improvement after taking this formula. It can also be used preventatively. This formula was used in China when they experienced the SARS outbreak and has become a staple in many household medicine cabinets.
For acute symptoms you should take the formula 3-4 times daily for 1-2 weeks. For prevention, it is best if you can start 1-2 weeks ahead, but definitely as soon as you notice those around you displaying symptoms. Herbal treatment for children can start as young as 3 months old, but they would need to see a licensed practitioner and get a prescription based on age and body weight.
Some brands of Fu Fang Ban Lan Gen Chong Ji are packaged in easy-open, one dosage packets. All you need to do is dissolve the granules in hot water and drink up. Some patients may experience loose stools or poor appetite after taking it.
Dr. Violet Song offers acupuncture and herbal treatments for female disorders, stress, insomnia, digestive disorders, the common cold, cough, as well as pediatric herbal consultations.