womens health

Can Acupuncture Treat ...?

It's a very common question: "Does acupuncture treat …?" The short answer is YES!, no matter the condition, because acupuncture is a complete medical system.

While it’s tempting to hear that as equivalent to a specific drug being touted as a panacea, it’s really like saying all of medicine can address a wide variety of ailments. We’re much more comfortable with that concept. Western or allopathic medicine can help with lots of things to varying degrees. It’s much the same with acupuncture. That’s one of the reasons it’s more accurately referred to as a complementary medicine, rather than alternative medicine.

Saying acupuncture can treat almost anything is more like saying all of medicine has a lot of answers than that one particular drug is a cure-all.
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Acupuncture and herbal medicine are toolkits based upon a complex theoretical model of the human body as a reflection of the natural world. Primary importance is placed on your symptoms and experience so this is truly a patient-centered approach. For example, it doesn't matter if the thermometer says you don't have a temperature. If you feel too hot, we might call that a fever (and one of a variety of fevers depending on the rest of what’s going on). The practice of this medicine includes asking lots of questions so I can understand as best as possible what's going on for you since I can't feel what you feel for you.

Primary importance is placed on your symptoms and experience so this is truly a patient-centered approach.

I then also "read" your body through palpation (gently touching your body - usually your legs, arms, and abdomen), taking your pulses, looking at your tongue (the only visible muscle in the body), and other diagnostic methods. This helps to clarify the pattern because lots of things can cause cramps, for example, or headaches. What's causing yours?

The goal is to get a complete picture of the pattern at play, as opposed to treating each symptom individually. Something's not in balance, so there are a variety of expressions of that imbalance. Address the issue at the root and multiple signals can fade back or disappear.

When I’m working to combine all your symptoms with your diagnostic readings to form the right acupuncture treatment in an efficient amount of time.

When I’m working to combine all your symptoms with your diagnostic readings to form the right acupuncture treatment in an efficient amount of time.

This is why it sometimes looks like I'm doing mental calculus while I'm working. There’s a lot to think about! This is also why becoming an acupuncturist takes 3.5 years of graduate school (that’s the shortest estimate at full time with no summer breaks), clinical hours (our version of a residency), and rigorous study for a comprehensive licensing exam that includes traditional medicine theory, knowledge of hundreds of acupuncture point locations and functions, medical safety measures along with medical ethics and local laws, plus Western terminology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and standards of care for every major condition from depression to mastitis to stomach cancer, etc. plus mandatory continuing education. I confess I had no idea how qualified my acupuncturist was when I first started as an acupuncture patient!

Lots of things can cause cramps, for example, or headaches. What’s causing yours?

Because everything is placed within a pattern, we can get into all the stuff that you've lived with but never known how to describe or where to go to deal with it. I've heard everything from “I’m phlegmy, but only right after I eat” to "my legs feel like they're going to float away" to "I feel completely exhausted after my period" to "I have this reoccurring dream about a boat on fire and it makes me anxious about getting ready for bed."

This theory helps direct us in our selection of channels and points and methods for stimulating them to change and action, including a variety of ways of needling, some involving insertion. There are also a host of other treatment modalities such as internal herbal medicine, topical herbal medicine, moxibustion, cupping, a variety of forms of massage, and beyond.

Under the umbrellas of women’s health and emotional health, my patients come to me with a wide variety of chief complaints – the big need that brings you in the door. We focus our attention on that main thing, but because acupuncture is a holistic medicine, from there we also keep in mind the whole picture of your health. We discuss how you sleep, your diet and digestion, any aches and pains, etc.

I always smile when I've just seen a patient with anxiety and a fertility patient comes in next and asks hesitantly if I think acupuncture might help for their anxious thoughts. And vice versa! Same thing happens when they mention a family member has shingles (I've seen acupuncture reduce the severity of the immediate flare and any post-herpetic neuralgia). The vast coverage of this medicine is one of the things that allows you to rely on me as a resource as your situation shifts and changes. Because changing is part of life!

So while there are some conditions that we'll definitely want you to either seek Western care for first or create an integrative approach, many health concerns could potentially be handled primarily with acupuncture and/or herbal medicine. Please talk to a licensed acupuncturist like myself to figure out the best way forward for you.

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About Shawna

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

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How to Survive and Thrive in the First Trimester

How to Survive and Thrive in the First Trimester

A NOTE FROM SHAWNA: When I find a good article I would like to share with you, I will (if the rights for the source allow it), reprint it here for you to enjoy. This does not necessarily indicate a relationship with the source and is not paid content. This post was written by acupuncturist Katherine Altneu, originally posted on the blog for her Denver practice, and is reposted here with her permission.

Pregnancy is different for every woman. Some women get debilitating fatigue, others get incapacitating nausea, others get leg cramps or insomnia. I don’t think there’s one foolproof way to make it through the symptoms that often accompany pregnancy, but here’s what I learned about managing and minimizing many of those symptoms.

To be honest, so far I haven’t been terribly impressed with the level of prenatal care I’ve experienced. I’ve seen both an OB and a Midwife group, and while I like the doctors I’ve worked with, believe they really do care about me and feel safe and that I’m in good hands, I also feel like a LOT is missing from the conversation.

Prenatal care feels basically like emergency prevention & management. Going to see them makes me feel relieved to hear the heartbeat or see the baby via ultrasound. But other than that, they pretty much just check my blood pressure as if to say “Well, you don’t have preeclampsia yet!” and then they basically just tell me: “Wear your seatbelt, and don’t get Listeria”. Um, thanks. Got it.

Yeah, all their nutritional advice is all about avoiding Listeria. It’s NOT about getting adequate or even optimal nutrition for the baby or mama. My goals are more than simply averting a medical crisis after all. Can’t we avert medical crises AND talk about optimal health and nutrition for BABY and helping ME feel my best as well?

So many doctors just tell you that it’s “normal”. Morning sickness is normal. Fatigue is normal. Bloating and gas are normal. And yes, all of these symptoms are very common, and it can be nice to hear that. But common doesn’t make them NORMAL or necessary or mean that they’re not AVOIDABLE or a sign of an underlying imbalance or deficiency.

In fact, many common pregnancy complaints and complications are associated with vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. Which means they can also be rectified pretty easily!

Often, we don’t need to just accept these symptoms as NORMAL. For many of these common pregnancy symptoms, there are strategies and tools we can use to prevent them, minimize them and alleviate them.

So, without further ado, here are the tricks I’ve learned and what I really want more women to know:

Inspiration from the Past

Over the past few months I've been taking time to read a brilliant little book called Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor. It's a new (published 2015) translation of a discovery from the rare book library of the Beijing Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, an account of 31 cases by the Ming Dynasty practitioner Tán Yǔnxián. That's a female doctor from 1500s China! I heard about the book while listening to an episode of the Yin Yang podcast with guest Lorraine Wilcox, who was speaking about moxibustion (Episode #34 Why Moxa?). Moxibustion, also known as moxa, is a particular love of mine so I leapt to hear this topic as a treat. Turns out that in addition to her fascinating study of moxa, Wilcox translated this Ming Dynasty book. Who knows how many other female doctors there were at the time or how many wrote books, but I'm glad this one survived. It's exciting to read as I operate in the modern world of our profession.

Cases during the Ming were not only filtered through the male doctor’s understanding, but the reported symptoms were filtered through the husband’s words.

Tán's patients were all female, ranging in age from six to sixty-nine. During the Ming Dynasty, women had to have a male relative present when seeing a male doctor so part of what set her apart was surely her ability to speak with a patient one on one and not to have the male explain her symptoms for her!

"Therefore, cases during the Ming were not only filtered through the male doctor's understanding, but the reported symptoms were filtered through the husband's words. If the wife was angry because the husband wanted a concubine, would the husband have said so? Even if he did, he and the male doctor would think it perfectly within his rights. This is perhaps why women were perceived as angry by nature in most accounts, not due to circumstances of their lives.

"In addition, to sit quietly by while one's own intimate bodily functions are discussed by two males must have been an embarrassing experience. Is it any wonder then that women preferred to see a female healthcare practitioner when they could?" (24)

These were women who held power that males could not easily restrict.

Part of what makes her cases so fascinating is that, unlike male practitioners' case study books of similar periods, she does explain the life circumstances that relate to the patient's affliction. Anger and vomiting blood. Shame and a red rash. Since both Chinese and Japanese medicine hold that the emotions affect the health of the body, it is more surprising to me that the male practitioners were not fully taking into account the patient's emotional state.

"Another reason female health care practitioners were not trusted by men is that they had access to the women's inner quarters, an area generally forbidden to males. [...] They had full access to questioning, pulse, and facial diagnosis. They also could be consulted about abortion, birth control, and so forth. The husband might want control of these, but a female practitioner could circumvent him. These were women who held power that males could not easily restrict." (25)

How far we've come and how lucky we are! We have not only the freedom to seek treatment on our own, but access to this medicine that has such gentle yet effective power. Just as Tán treated women for menstrual disorders and postpartum care as well as numbness of the hands and muscle atrophy, acupuncture is a medical system that considers the entire body and mind.

I would not say that this would be a page-turner for those who are not acupuncturists or possibly Chinese history scholars as the majority of the book is made up of specific case details (especially versions of herbal formulas and analyses of these). However, you can flip through it before or after a treatment. The introductory chapters (excerpted above) are illuminating.

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Image credit: Cover of Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor by Tán Yǔnxián translated by Lorraine Wilcox with Yue Lu