Put a Seed on It: Earseeds and Needle-Free Acupuncture

Many people think acupuncture and immediately think needles, but there are a wide variety of tools at our disposal, many of which stem from Eastern medicine’s herbal traditions. Earseeds, for example, are a popular form of herbal treatment which gently press on acupuncture points versus needle insertion.

Vaccaria seeds (Latin name: Semen Vaccariae; Chinese name: wang bu liu xing) can be prescribed for internal use to reduce breast and testicular swelling and move blood to promote lactation or menstruation. They are also handy little round seeds that can gently stimulate acupuncture points on the ear or body to provide treatment that lasts several hours to days. This treatment is safe for all patients and, like most acupuncture treatment, has only a low risk of minor side effects.

Vaccaria seeds are commonly referred to as “earseeds” since we often use the microcosm of the ear to treat conditions throughout the body. The seeds, gently pressed against the skin by a very small bandage adhesive, stay particularly well on the ear, but earseeds can be applied to any acupuncture point. Magnets or other metals are sometimes used instead of the seed. This makes them a versatile and minimally visible way of extending treatment beyond a visit to your acupuncturist. I prefer to use the gentlest possible form of effective treatment, a hallmark of Japanese medicine, and to make sure my patients are empowered to treat themselves with the knowledge they glean from our sessions. I love giving out earseeds so symptoms like insomnia, nausea, headaches, jetlag, neck and shoulder pain, and anxiety are continually improving or being prevented between sessions. That way we don’t lose ground, patients have a new appreciation for what their body is capable of doing with little assistance, and they have more freedom to travel.

Free Earseed Treatments Sunday July 16

I will be giving free earseed treatments at the Herbal Medicine (and then some!) Fair on July 16, sharing a booth with my San Francisco officemates Back to Life Physical Therapy. There are many other ways to treat without needle insertion in an acupuncture session as well, including moxibustion, contact needles, and a variety of diagnostic massage techniques including cupping. Come feel how earseeds can treat a wide variety of symptoms and conditions and ask any questions in person!

5th Annual Herbal Medicine (and Then Some!) Fair
Sunday July 16 10am – 5pm
Temescal Alley (486 49th St in Oakland)

Practitioner bio

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California-licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist who specializes in the treatment of women’s health and fertility, sports medicine, chronic pain management, and the cycles of stress, anxiety, and depression. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients both in her private practice in San Francisco and in a collaborative practice in Temescal. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, read her blog A Cuppa Qi and make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com.

This write-up was originally written for Homestead Apothecary's July newsletter.

July 16, 2017: Herbal Medicine (And Then Some!) Fair

Come join me at the Herbal Medicine (and Then Some!) Fair on Sunday, July 16 from 10am – 5pm. I'll be applying and educating on earseeds, the fantastic way to extend your acupuncture sessions' effectiveness at home, in addition to answering questions about Japanese medicine, how acupuncture can treat a variety of conditions, and my practice in San Francisco and Oakland. If we haven't met yet please come by to say hello!

I'll be sharing a booth with Back to Life Physical Therapy, my officemates in SF who also have a community-oriented treatment and classroom space just down 49th St from Temescal Alley. They'll be doing movement analysis at the fair so come sign up for an assessment of your gait or posture along with your earseed treatment.

5th Annual Herbal Medicine (and Then Some!) Fair
Temescal Alley (486 49th St Oakland)
Sun July 16 10am – 5pm
Details: www.HomesteadApothecary.com/herbal-medicine-fair/

Understanding Acupuncture Through Children's Books

Whether you're shopping for a child or looking for a good way into the world of acupuncture yourself, these children's books are worth checking out. Here are my takes on each of the children's books on acupuncture I've encountered so far:

For more info, visit www.acupuncturekidsbook.com

For more info, visit www.acupuncturekidsbook.com

Maya and Friends Visit the Acupuncturist

By Samara White, L.Ac. and illustrated by Troy White

Children's books have to streamline concepts and so are often unexpectedly helpful in explaining complicated ideas simply and clearly. This book has been a big hit in my waiting rooms and at health fairs. In it, a little girl named Maya wakes up with sniffles and sneezes, then listens to the advice of her friends, Ellie the Elephant and Bobby Bear, and goes with them to visit Dr. Meow. I love elephants so Ellie totally won me over (so cute when she gets cupping!). Dr. Meow also sends a very important message for children (and adults!) when she makes it very clear that nothing happens to your body without your consent. And how can you resist a teddy bear marveling at meridians?

This book offers simple explanations for qi, yin, yang, and herbs and moxa in addition to expectations for the patient experience. And it rhymes so you might find yourself recalling lines here and there.

Pro: The best overall explanation of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, fun to read out loud

Con: Some of the illustrations are a little uncanny

Verdict: If you only get one book, this one's my favorite overall.

My Visit to the Acupuncturist

By Stacey V. Leung and illustrated by Daniel Griffo

This bold and colorful book is so sweet! It focuses on how acupuncture can help kids (and, by extension, any patient) get back to their favorite activities and how sessions work so you don't have to be scared. A little boy injures his ankle playing soccer and just wants to get back to playing ball. He finds that acupuncture isn't scary and it helps him heal over a series of sessions.

"My Visit" is a nice complement to "Maya and Friends" that focuses on the patient experience and in general has nicer illustrations. A big bonus is seeing acupuncture in an integrative context: the doctor who examines the boy's X-ray is the one to tell him Jane (the acupuncturist) will help with "the swelling and pain" and her office is right next door to physical therapy (just like mine!).

Pro: Uncomplicated, a simple introduction to the patient experience of acupuncture, illustrates integrative care

Con: Doesn't talk about how acupuncture works

Verdict: If you (or your little one) are nervous about going to acupuncture, this one is probably the best for allaying fears. Also great focus on sports medicine. 

The Five: A Journey to Find a Home

By Dr. Coleen Smith and illustrated by Alaina Schreiner 

This colored pencil style volume is billed as a children's book, but instead I would recommend it for anyone beginning acupuncture school. I never got into Zoo Cards (a set of flashcards for learning Chinese herbs), but this feels like a similar tool. The book illustrates the five elements and their characteristics in a way that feels less like a story and more like an elaborate mnemonic device.

For example the story has Livgall the green-eyed monkey, Luli the white bird, Kibla the blue fish, Splesto the yellow lion, and Hearsi the red dragon search for the perfect environment to call home. Character names are not smoothed into something a character might be called but just direct combinations of the channel pairs (Livgall is Liver and Gall Bladder, Luli is Lung and Large Intestine, etc). The adjectives that describe the characters and their chosen environments align with the five element sounds, smells, cardinal directions, etc.

I could imagine finding this book useful in the beginning of school when there is so much information to take in and anything sweet and colorful is a helpful respite! Maybe even as a little treat when studying for California Licensing and National Board exams.

Pro: Detailed five element overview equals good study tool (there's even a chart in the back)

Con: More educational than enjoyable

Verdict: Great for first year acupuncture students or for board exam study! Probably not a kid favorite.

Have I missed any acupuncture children's books that you know and love? I love book recommendations so send me your suggestions!

Header image: illustration by Troy White from "Maya and Friends Visit the Acupuncturist"

Blue Shield In Network Provider

I am now an in-network provider for Blue Shield!

Q: But I already have you bill my insurance. What's changing?
A: This is an option I have added to my existing insurance participation: You can still use your out of network acupuncture benefits if you have a PPO plan with a different carrier. The difference is that now most Blue Shield plans will get you affordable coverage you do not need to pay for out of pocket before using your plan benefits in both San Francisco and Oakland.

Q: What about Anthem Blue Cross or Blue Cross Blue Shield?
In some states Blue Cross and Blue Shield are managed as one company, but in California they are mostly separate. If your coverage is for Anthem Blue Cross, I am not in network, but we can bill for out of network benefits that are often quite comprehensive. If you have Blue Cross Blue Shield, we'll check your benefits and see whether your specific plan is considered in or out of network for me.

Please fill out the form on my Fees and Insurance page to request a benefits check for either your Blue Shield plan or other PPO insurance and we'll start taking advantage of your acupuncture benefits!

If you have any questions, please contact me and I'll be happy to discuss them with you. And because insurance checks are usually completed within 24-48 hours, feel free to make an appointment then send me your insurance information to check right away!

Spring Gleaning: Education Update

One of my favorite aspects of the acupuncture profession is its requirement that you be a lifelong student. And because I get excited when I start looking at potential classes, I've somehow found myself anticipating the remainder of my required classes (continuing education units) for the year all in the next month! Of course that doesn't mean I won't take more just for fun...

Last week I attended a lecture on Working With the Heavy Cannabis User with medical herbalist Paul Bergner as there is so much to learn about the effects and side effects of cannabis whether used for medical or recreational use. We set politics and legality aside and just dealt with the cases. I now have a much better understanding of the effects of cannabis on body systems, side effects to watch for and make patients aware of before they consider using it for a given condition, and how to approach weaning off of medical use if side effects become unmanageable. As an acupuncturist I can't prescribe cannabis, but I did feel it was essential that I expand my understanding of the way its use as a medication or recreational substance might affect my patients so we can do our best work together.

Next up this weekend at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in Portland is a hands on course with renowned sports medicine practitioner Matt Callison, L.Ac. I'll be learning and practicing new techniques for Assessment and Treatment of Lower Leg Injuries: knee, foot, and ankle. This is perfect for my athlete patients and for anyone with chronic pain or past injuries. I think it's only fitting that we're starting with the roots of our upright bodies. I plan on continuing this orthopedic-focused training and look forward to future learning to expand my treatment toolbox for the spine, hips, neck, and shoulders. I'm especially excited to seek out classes like this one that integrate the best of Western and Eastern medicine with orthopedic tests, anatomy reviews, and herbal and acupuncture treatment.

And lastly, in late March I'm taking a practical course on The Ancient Art of Cupping with Susan Johnson, L.Ac. here in Oakland. Cupping is such a wonderful modality to both diagnose and address pain and stiffness. It feels like a massage, but works by giving your tense muscles more room to be flushed with fluids rather than compressing them. I can't wait to share new insights and techniques from this class with you!

If there are topics you'd like to see me explore either on the blog or in a continuing education class, I'm always open to suggestions. And if you hear of a great class or webinar coming up, do let me know! I also post community focused classes and webinars in addition to articles about acupuncture and healthcare on Twitter. Please join me there!

Image credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Stress Relief and the Pantone Color of the Year

The Pantone Color of 2017 is Greenery. Leaves. Fresh greens and dark, shadows and tendrils. The classics say green is the color of Spring and of its associated meridian, the Liver (not to be confused with your anatomical organ).

The Liver is easily injured by anger, whether felt rightfully when we are not respected or felt in excess when we seek more than we're due. A smooth Liver meridian allows for the free movement of energy (qi), properly nourishing other body processes and meridians and relieving pain, stress, and tension. Since the Liver governs the sinews and tendons, we can stretch and move freely in our physical body as well as in our emotional range when the channel is free of stagnant energy and substances.

And when the Liver needs soothing, as it does when we are stressed and angry, we should walk among trees and soothe the liver by looking at leaves and grasses. It's almost as though Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, know of this connection as she explained, "Greenery bursts forth in 2017 to provide us with the reassurance we yearn for amid a tumultuous social and political environment. Satisfying our growing desire to rejuvenate and revitalize, Greenery symbolizes the reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose."

I couldn't think of a better color for 2017. Get outside, everyone, rain or shine, and find the greenery. Just take a scarf to protect your neck from the wind!

Treating Jetlag: Modern Acupuncture

To understand acupuncture as a developing form of medicine, let's examine how we handle a fundamentally modern ailment: jetlag. There is no ancient equivalent for having traveled so far so fast as to feel out of time. Yet jetlag responds well to acupuncture treatment. How?

We find success in treatment when our understanding of theory and diagnosis is strong. Thus, a good practitioner does not rely on specific protocols, but on our grasp of medical theory and diagnostic principles to create the best treatment for an individual patient, no matter the ailment(s).

Photo credit: Unsplash

Photo credit: Unsplash

Common jetlag symptoms include insomnia, irritability, inability to focus, and disorientation. Therefore it makes the most sense to assess and balance the channels that pertain to the body's internal and external sense of itself (yin wei and yang wei) and bring the mind and body back to a grounded present by choosing a point along the center line (preferably one that calms shen, the concept of mind or spirit). Sometimes additional grounding by using the points of the yin qiao and yang qiao channels is also helpful. These channels control gait and balance for the inner and outer aspects of the legs (in addition to a myriad of other symptoms and functions).

This is an elegant approach and one that suits most patients. However, there is always room for adaptation and individualization. Perhaps the patient also needs immune support or pain management after their travels. Adding points or using different channels will still work if the practitioner is paying clear attention to the patient's presentation and needs.

In addition to treating jetlag for patients after travel, I have successfully used this method on myself to prevent jetlag by applying vaccaria seeds (wang bu liu xing) to acupuncture points before boarding and continuing to wear them through air travel. I found this worked better than only using an ear acupuncture protocol (including ear shenmen, point zero, insomnia points, and the pineal and endocrine gland points), but I have not yet tried to combine them.

Vaccaria seeds are herbal medicine applied to acupuncture points to gently stimulate the point and extend treatment over a few hours to days. Magnets or other metals are sometimes used instead of the seed, but the key is gentle pressure on the acupoint. Your practitioner will show you how to gently press the seed to stimulate the point intentionally and direct you how often intentional pressure is advised. Seeds may fall off on their own or need to be removed after 3-5 days depending on advice from your practitioner. Side effects are rare, but if the point itches or feels too sensitive with the seed on, simply remove the seed and contact your acupuncturist.

As you can see, it's just a seed on sticky tape like a small bandaid.

As you can see, it's just a seed on sticky tape like a small bandaid.

Vaccaria seeds can be applied to any point on the body, but because they are commonly applied to one of the hundreds of points on the ear, they are often referred to as earseeds.

Vaccaria seeds can be applied to any point on the body, but because they are commonly applied to one of the hundreds of points on the ear, they are often referred to as earseeds.

Consider acupuncture to decrease or prevent jetlag either before you depart or upon your return. Happy travels!

Many thanks to my teacher Mike Morgan for shaping my initial thoughts on treating jetlag.

Photo credit: UnsplashUnsplash, earseed photos by Shawna

Contact Needle Treatment for Cancer Pain

The week before Thanksgiving I attended a lecture and demonstration on using contact needles for cancer treatment related pain by Dr. Keiko Ogawa of Kanazawa, Japan. Dr. Ogawa published a study in 2013 on using contact needles to treat chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). I was excited to see research on contact needles available in English and to learn this was the first time she was teaching in the US. There is a wealth of research on contact needle therapy in Japanese, but most of it has not been translated for a Western audience.

My silver contact needle tools (similar in size to golf pencils)

I often use a specialized silver contact needle tool in my treatments. Dr. Ogawa performed her study using disposable silver needles more similar to the stainless steel needles we use for insertion needling. Regardless of the tool, the method is to settle the needle on the relevant acupuncture point rather than inserting the needle into the skin. This is a painless form of treatment that has the added benefit of reducing infection risk, a key feature in treating cancer patients who may have weakened immune systems due to their cancer and/or their Western treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, etc).

From ancient times, it has been said that the larger the needle is and the deeper the needle is inserted, the stronger the stimulation will be. If the stimulation is too strong, the patients’ condition becomes worse, especially when their constitution is weak. CNT is known as a method of weak stimulation. In this aspect, CNT is effective and appropriate for treating cancer patients.
— Efficacy of Contact Needle Therapy for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy, 2013

CIPN often prevents patients from continuing valuable anti-cancer treatment and can make daily activity difficult or impossible. As the hands and feet are often the most affected, this can mean inability or difficulty walking or doing daily self maintenance and household activity, much less working or caring for others.

Dr. Ogawa explained and demonstrated a number of specific techniques for us that subtly address the causes of pain and weakness for a variety of patient types. I can now use these methods in a manner specific to an individual patient. Treatments consist of 15-20 minutes for the front and 15-20 minutes for the back. Based on patient strength, we may either combine front and back treatments or do only one side per week. There is a set of points and treatment methods we'll use in every treatment and another set I'll choose among based on how you are doing during that particular visit.

I love that this approach highlights the key approach of Japanese acupuncture: to do as little to the body as possible to assist it in bringing itself back to balance. Your body is always trying to regulate itself and my methods are meant to help that process, not to do all the work and tire you out or make you reliant on treatment to feel well.

Though this study has a very small number of patients, it has promising results to be explored with a larger sample size, making it a successful pilot study. Both improved movement ability and a decrease in breakthrough pain (in other words the sudden sharp sensation of pain or shock) can improve quality of life to a strong enough degree that contact needle therapy using these methods is something I am happy to offer to my patients.

Read the full study "Efficacy of Contact Needle Therapy for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy" by Keiko Ogawa et al. in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2013, Article ID 928129