Really? BPA free? Toxicity and Plastics

Really? BPA free?  Toxicity and Plastics

Plastics are everywhere, convenient and affordable.    Personally, I do not find the benefits outweighing the harm that they cause.  Two known and well-researched toxic chemicals are Bisphenol A (BPA) and Phthalates.  The harm is in the toxic chemicals that plastic releases into the environment and into our bodies.  Odorless and tasteless, yet daily exposure to these harmful chemicals changes our DNA.  Children are at the greatest risk since they consume more for their size. 1,2,3   We often see sports fields littered with drink bottles cooking in the hot sun.  Our kids then consume those toxins leached from the heated plastic.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a compound found in plastics.  BPA’s are an endocrine disruptor (think messes with your hormones) and many manufacturers are advertising BPA free products.  Unfortunately, BPA’s are still used in the lining of canned goods and containers as plastic products not used for consumables such as pacifiers and toys .  We also know it is not the only harmful compound in plastic that is toxic.

Phthalates are a well-researched but underreported chemical found in plastics.  Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and found in all plastics and many cosmetics.

Due to limited research dollars there are other compounds that haven’t been tested for their impact on our bodies and the environment.  Ignorance is not bliss as these compounds are often stored in our fat tissue and builds up in our body, soil, ocean and the air we breathe.

What can you do to minimize your exposure to these harmful chemicals?    Embrace alternatives like bamboo, glass, stainless steel (although many have a resin plastic coating inside), and all natural cloth.  Use a glass containers for leftovers, a stainless steel thermos, and organic cotton lunch bags.  Glass containers can go from the freezer to the microwave.  Some of my favorite products are:  Life Factory glass water bottles, versatile and colorful ECO Lunchbags,  and Pyrex glass container sets.  Opt never to use plastic in the microwave.

If you use plastic look at the number rating on the bottom of the container and use the following as your guide.4

















Harvard School of Public Health Study appears in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, September, 2009






© Donna Sigmond, EastWest Wellness

Are organic foods healthier than non-organic foods?

photo credit: Chiot's Run via photopin cc

photo credit: Chiot’s Run via photopin cc

Researchers from Newcastle University in England have reviewed and conducted meta-analysis on 343 peer-reviewed scientific studies in an effort to find out if organic foods contained greater nutritional value than conventional foods. The results will probably shock some, but will confirm what many people already knew; organic foods are indeed much healthier for human consumption than ‘conventional’ foods. The study looked at existing research that had been conducted on the differences between organic and conventional foods, finding that there were some significant variations in the nutritional value between the two.

“We carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods”

More Antioxidants

The most important difference that researchers found was that organic foods contain a much higher amount of antioxidants than conventional crops. Antioxidants prevent oxidation in the body, which combats certain diseases and cancers. An Environmental Working Group press release noted that:

“consumers who switch to organic fruits, vegetables, and cereals would get 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants. That’s the equivalent of about two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with no increase in caloric intake.”

Less Toxic Compounds

Researchers also found lower levels of the harmful heavy metal cadmium and lower levels of nitrogen, both of which are dangerous to human health. Cadmium, which is also present in cigarette smoke, can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and other bodily functions and organs. Researchers were unable to explain why there were lower levels of these toxic compounds in organic food, but it’s been speculated that the use of glyphosate (Roundup) based pesticides may induce heavy metal uptake in ‘conventional’ crops as it does in other organisms.

We Choose Organic

Based on the research, the choice between organic foods and conventionally grown foods is a no-brainer. Organic foods are hands down a more nutritious and health promoting option. Whether you’re deciding to plant a garden or shop for groceries, remember the important benefits of eating organic foods.

The Difference: Food Allergies vs. Food Sensitivies

What is the difference between food allergy, food sensitivity and food intolerance?

Food allergies, food sensitivities and food intolerance are often used interchangeably and inappropriately. In fact, there is active debate in scientific and medical circles as to how to define and use these three terms. The general consensus is that food allergy can be defined as any adverse reaction to food that involves our immune system. This further breaks down into two kinds of reactions, food allergy and food sensitivity. Food intolerance does not involve the immune system.

Food Allergy

Perhaps the best known example of food allergy is also its least common and most dangerous. Anaphylactic shock is a severe hyper-reaction of the immune system caused by a massive release of histamine and other chemical mediators from certain types of white blood cells called mast cells and basophils. Not everyone with food allergies experiences anaphylaxis though. The immunological triggering mechanism that causes the mast cells (and basophils) to release their chemicals is called IgE and is a very well understood phenomenon. This underlying mechanism is considerably different from the triggering mechanisms found in food sensitivities. The most common foods implicated in food allergy are peanuts, other nuts, shellfish or foods containing sulfites. People with anaphylaxis can die within minutes if they ingest even one molecule of their allergic food.

Food allergy affects about 1-2% of the population and accounts for only a small percentage of all adverse food reactions.  Most immediate reactions are not life threatening but do produce uncomfortable symptoms.  People suffering from food allergy can  usually identify what foods they are allergic to without the help of a doctor or testing.  This is because the reaction occurs everytime and shortly after they eat their allergic food.

Food Sensitivity

Food sensitivity (also known as delayed food allergy) is quite another story. Delayed reactions manifest in many different ways as they can affect any organ system in the body and can take from 45 minutes to several days for symptoms to become apparent. The delayed onset of symptoms and complex physiological mechanisms involved in food sensitivities make them an especially difficult puzzle to try to solve either on your own or with most laboratory serum tests. In fact, food sensitivities often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. The treatments prescribed usually provide only temporary relief that mask the symptoms instead of addressing the root cause of the problems.

The differences between the two kinds of immune-mediated adverse food reactions are summarized in the table below.

Body Organs Involved Any organ system in the body can be affected Usually limited to airways, skin, gastrointestinal tract
Symptom Onset Occurs From 45 minutes up to 3 days after ingestion From seconds to 1 hour after ingestion
Are symptoms acute or chronic? Usually chronic, sometimes acute Usually acute, rarely chronic
Percentage of Population Affected Est 20-30% 1-2%
Immunologic Mechanisms White blood cells
IgG (and subclasses)
C3, C4
Non-Immunologic Mechanisms Toxic , pharmacologic None
How much food is needed to trigger the allergy? From small amount to large amount; often dosage dependent 1 molecule of allergic food needed to trigger reaction

Food Intolerance

Food intolerance can produce some digestive symptoms that are similar to food sensitivity but it doesn’t involve the immune system. Instead, when the food in question is consumed, it is not properly digested and begins to ferment inside the gut. The best example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance. This condition is characterized by bloating, loose stools or diarrhea and gas. Lactose intolerance is caused by an inability of the body to produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, the primary sugar found in milk. Avoiding milk products or supplementing the diet with lactase enzyme is the best way for a person with lactose intolerance to overcome the problem.

Energetics of Peaches: A Cooling Summer Fruit

photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

August brings many people allergy symptoms.  I checked the pollen index today, and in Louisville, Colorado, the weeds measured high;  trees and grass were too low to count, but less than two weeks ago, they both were low to moderate.  In addition, temperatures usually reach the high 80s to high 90s in summer on Colorado’s Front Range.

I was thinking about the Lafayette Peach Festival yesterday and looking forward to some yummy peaches.  As my mind began to wander, I was thinking about the sweet juice of the peach and the medicinal properties peaches bring.

Peaches have a cooling nature.  They can be sweet and/or sour in flavor which can moisten the lungs and intestines.  Peaches are good for dry coughs and dry conditions of the lungs.  Peach flesh can be cooked and pureed and help calm gastrointestinal inflammation.  The cooking softens the fiber making it more soothing to the tissue in the large intestine.  Peach leaves can be taken as a tea to destroy intestinal worms.  The peach kernel (seed) is used in Chinese Medicine for constipation and cyst or tumors of the uterus (best left to the practitioner to use safely).  There are a number of chemicals in peaches that are found that contribute to the medicinal properties such as emulsin, allantoinase, lipids, essential oils (gibberellins A5, A33) and vitamin B1.1

What I find remarkable is how “mother nature” delivers the right ingredients when we need it.  Colorado grows fantastic peaches and best in those hot and dry months.  Dry lung conditions can be present for many here in parts of Colorado.  Yet we are supplied with bountiful bushels of peaches to nourish us on a deeper level than just something for our mouth and tummy to enjoy.

As a practitioner of Nutrition and Chinese Medicine I know that I may use tao ren (peach kernel/seed) for the following:

  • Activates Blood Circulation, Removes Blood Stasis – gynecology, sports injuries2
  • Drains Abscesses – lung and intestines3
  • Anti-parasitic; Moistens the Intestines, Relieves Constipation4

However, I know that the food we eat and the nourishment it provides has a much deeper and profound level when we really connect with it.  Our food can and should be our medicine!

1  Xian Dai Zhong Yao Yao Li Xue (Contemporary Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs), 1997; 903
Shang Hai Zhong Yi Yao Za Zhi (Shanghi Journal of Chinese Medicine and Herbology), 1985; 7:45 (hematological)
Zhong Yao Tong Bao (Journal of Chinese Herbology), 1986;11(11):37 (inflammation)
Zhong Yao Zhi (Chinese Herbology Journal), 1984:89

Friendly Fish: How dangerous is mercury in fish?

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Excessive amount of mercury have entered our waters from medical and municipal wastes, power plants, and landfills containing fluorescent light bulbs and thermometers. Once it enters the air and soil, it travels to water ways, contaminating fish. Aside from pollution, fish from specific geographical locations can be contaminated. For example, there are natural ore deposits in the Mediterranean sea that are responsible for mercury contamination in fish from that region.

Mercury toxicity can cause birth defects, damage to the nervous system, premature aging, vision loss, and the onset of disease. Pregnant or lactating women and young children in particular must take extra precautions to avoid mercury-contaminated fish. Please refer to our Introduction to our Friendly Fish Series! article for information on what fish are the safest to consume.

Heavy metals such as mercury can impair growth and development or cause birth defects, causing physical and mental impairment, incomplete maturation, inadequate brain function, weak legs and bones, impotence and other reproductive issues, and early senility. Anyone who has a family history of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s should limit their fish intake to only those in the low mercury range as a health precaution.

photo credit: Instant Vantage via photopin cc

Everyone has some level of mercury in their body. Infants, too, are passed trace amount of heavy metals from their mothers. The human body can tolerate this natural, low level. It is when mercury levels get too high that they begin to have an unhealthy impact on the body. The best way to limit intake of heavy metals is to regulate your fish consumption, where most mercury exposure comes from. 39% of mercury exposure in the U.S. is due to light Skipjack tuna. Though Skipjack contains 1/3 the amount of mercury as Albacore, Americans consume greater amounts of Skipjack because it is lower in cost.

A word on sushi: The types of fish and other seafood used in sushi often contain higher mercury levels. Eating sushi containing these fish is not recommended, especially because many sushi eaters have it regularly. On a side note, raw fish contains bacteria, making infection a possiblity.

Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating. George Mateljan Foundation: Seattle, 2007. Print.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, 1993. Print.

Cannabis Smoking and Testicular Cancer

In a recent case-control study in the journal Cancer, people who reported ever using marijuana had nearly twice the risk of testicular germ cell tumors as those who had never used the drug, according to Victoria Cortessis, PhD, of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The study of 455 Californian men found those who had smoked pot were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with testicular germ cell tumors, the most common form of testicular cancer in men younger than 35.

Cortessi explains in the report that it is not clearly understood what happens in the testis that lead to carcinogenesis .  The theory is that it may be acting through the endocannabinoid system.  In other words it is speculated that marijuana smoke and the cannabis chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, reduces levels of circulating hormones like testosterone which is an important regulator of the testis development and function.

Cortessis states that “It may be that marijuana use disrupts this regulation in a way that makes the testes much more vulnerable to cancer.” Testicular cancer is the most common malignancy diagnosed in young men 15 to 45, the researchers noted, and is becoming more common, perhaps because of “increasing exposure to unrecognized environmental causes.”  The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 8,500 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2012. About 360 of them will die from it.

Lacson JCA, et al “Population-based case-control study of recreational drug use and testis cancer risk confirms an association between marijuana use and nonseminoma risk” Cancer 2012; DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27554.


© Donna Sigmond, EastWest Wellness

Treating PTSD with Hypnotherapy

By Crystal Burnham

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is diagnosed by a medical doctor or licensed psychologist/psychiatrist in accordance with the DSM-IV Criteria for PTSD.

After a traumatic situation has occurred in one’s life (whether witnessed or directly experienced), the feelings of fear, sadness, and anxiety are natural responses to the experience. However, as time passes, most individuals are able to re-connect with their life and the feelings associated with the traumatic situation fade.

PTSD can take days, months, or even years to develop after the initial experiences(s).  The most common cause of PTSD is an event or series of events in which a person feels helpless and their life feels unpredictable or uncontrollable. In a person suffering with PTSD, getting back to a normal life seems impossible.  The person feels unsafe, loses trust and disconnects from their life, family and friends.   In the mind, the past trauma becomes mistakenly paired with the present, which can cause feelings of hopelessness and being shattered.

A lot of individuals who have PTSD aren’t even aware that they have it.  They may contact a hypnotherapist because of insomnia, stress, low tolerance to frustration, fear/phobias, trouble with focus or concentration, “feeling stuck” etc.  There are many surface symptoms that can mask this disorder.

How can hypnotherapy help?

There is empirical evidence that with a solid treatment overcoming PTSD is possible. Hypnotherapy utilizes three core areas to help a client develop new coping skills.

  1. Stress Inoculation Therapy – developing anxiety management and coping skills such as: deep muscle relaxation, breathing control, reassuring self-talk etc. For example, the word “calm” may reflect peace and centeredness so we re-enforce this through hypnosis.  In the real world, during periods of hyper arousal, one can use the word “calm” to ground them into the present.  The goal being to un-pair the previous trauma with the current event.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – identifying thoughts that are distorted or irrational and replacing them with a more balanced perspective.  Survivor’s guilt would be a good example here.  A re-occurring thought that could occur would be, that “I should have been the one who died”.  Here we learn that feelings are not facts.  Using logic, reason, will power and superior judgment, we determine what the facts are and re-enforce this in hypnosis.
  3. Exposure Therapy – helps the person overcome the natural tendency to avoid stimuli related to the trauma. At this stage, we look at what activities a person has been avoiding due to feelings of dread, fear, not feeling safe etc.  We start with the smallest degree of unpleasantness first, practice this in hypnosis, and then try it out in the real world.

These three core areas are talked about cognitively first, and then reinforced in the hypnotic state.  Each hypnotherapy session builds on the skills learned in previous sessions.  Clients are also given homework to do in between weekly sessions. This allows the client to see their progress and also the areas that may need to be reinforced during hypnosis.

Crystal Burnham
Registered Psychotherapist
Licensed Massage Therapist
Reiki Master






Relieve Pain Naturally with Acupuncture

Increasingly, people are looking for more natural approaches to help relieve painful conditions instead of relying on medications. Acupuncture has no side effects and can be helpful for all types of pain, regardless of what is causing the pain or where the pain is located. Some studies have shown the pain relief it provides can last for months.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain before and after acupuncture treatment for pain shows dramatic decreases in brain activity — up to 70 percent. This decrease in brain activity in certain areas of the brain is thought to be the reason for the reduction of pain caused by the acupuncture treatments.

In addition to reducing pain, acupuncture also hastens the healing process by increasing circulation and attracting white blood cells to an injured area.

The basis of acupuncture is expressed in this famous Chinese saying: “Bu tong ze tong, tong ze bu tong”which means “free flow: no pain, no free flow: pain.”

In other words, any kind of pain or illness represents an obstruction in the normal flow of Qi or life force. Simply put, acupuncture moves Qi, restoring free flow.

Studies on Acupuncture and Pain

Acupuncture has become readily accepted in mainstream modern medicine as a viable option for pain management and studies support its therapeutic effects.

In a German study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 1,162 adults with chronic, lower back pain were divided into groups treated with either the standard pharmaceutical and exercise therapy commonly used in conventional medicine or acupuncture. The researchers reported that acupuncture provided relief and lasting benefit to nearly twice as many lower back pain patients as drugs and exercise. Forty-eight percent of the acupuncture patients reported at least a one-third decrease in pain along with improvement in their ability to function, versus 27 percent of the patients treated with conventional methods reporting such benefits.

In another recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine analyzed 33 studies covering more than 2,100 patients from around the world on acupuncture for low back pain.

They found acupuncture provided definite pain relief in the short-term (defined as relief sustained for three weeks after the end of the acupuncture sessions).

If you or someone you love suffers from acute and chronic pain, please call to find out more about how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help you.


© Donna Sigmond, EastWest Wellness

Male Reproductive Health

Oriental medicine can help treat various male disorders. As men age a decrease in the function of male reproductive organs occurs and they experience andropause, or male menopause. Andropause differs from menopause as there is not a dramatic or marked physiological change.

Unlike the more dramatic reproductive hormone plunge that occurs in women during menopause, changes in men occur gradually over a period of many years.





Some male reproductive health conditions that acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help include: 

      * premature ejaculation
      * low sperm count
      * diminished motility
      * impotence
      * hernias
      * testicular pain
      * prostatitis
        * male infertility


      * andropause

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms associated with any of these conditions, call today!


Prostate Health

The prostate is prone to enlargement and inflammation as men age, affecting about half of men in their sixties and up to ninety percent of men as they approach their seventies and eighties. If left untreated, benign prostate gland enlargement, which presents with symptoms such as frequent nighttime urination, painful urination, and difficult urination, can lead to more serious conditions such as prostate cancer, urinary tract infections, bladder or kidney damage, bladder stones, and incontinence.Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can be used to treat prostate problems to relieve the urinary symptoms and prevent more serious conditions from occurring. The few studies completed on acupuncture and prostatitis show positive results with participants noticing a marked improvement in their quality of life, a decrease in urinary difficulties and an increase in urinary function.Call today to see how acupuncture can improve your prostate health!
© Donna Sigmond, EastWest Wellness

Decoding an Ancient Therapy

Acupuncture has long baffled medical experts and no wonder: It holds that an invisible life force called qi (pronounced chee) travels up and down the body in 14 meridians. Illness and pain are due to blockages and imbalances in qi. Inserting thin needles into the body at precise points can unblock the meridians, practitioners believe, and treat everything from arthritis and asthma to anxiety, acne and infertility.

WSJ’s health columnist Melinda Beck tests out acupuncture as an alternative means to reduce her neck and back pain.

Does It Work?

While scientists say further research is essential, some studies have provided evidence of acupuncture’s effects.

  • Arthritis of the Knee: Acupuncture significantly reduced pain and restored function, according to a 2004 government study.
  • Headaches: Two 2009 reviews found that acupuncture cut both tension and migraine headaches.
  • Lower Back Pain: Acupuncture eased it in a big study last year, but so did a sham treatment where needles didn’t penetrate the skin.
  • Cancer: Has proven effective in reducing nausea and fatigue caused by chemotherapy.
  • Infertility: Improves the odds of pregnancy for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization, according to a 2008 review of seven clinical trials.
  • Addiction: Often used to help quit smoking, drinking, drug use and overeating, but there is no conclusive evidence that it works.

After decades of cynicism, Western medical experts are using high-tech tools to unravel the ancient mysteries of how acupuncture works. WSJ’s Health columnist Melinda Beck joins Simon Constable on the News Hub to discuss.

As fanciful as that seems, acupuncture does have real effects on the human body, which scientists are documenting using high-tech tools. Neuroimaging studies show that it seems to calm areas of the brain that register pain and activate those involved in rest and recuperation. Doppler ultrasound shows that acupuncture increases blood flow in treated areas. Thermal imaging shows that it can make inflammation subside.

Scientists are also finding parallels between the ancient concepts and modern anatomy. Many of the 365 acupuncture points correspond to nerve bundles or muscle trigger points. Several meridians track major arteries and nerves. “If people have a heart attack, the pain will radiate up across the chest and down the left arm. That’s where the heart meridian goes,” says Peter Dorsher, a specialist in pain management and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. “Gallbladder pain will radiate to the right upper shoulder, just where the gallbladder meridian goes.”

Many medical experts remain deeply skeptical about acupuncture, of course, and studies of its effectiveness have been mixed. “Something measurable is happening when you stick a needle into a patient—that doesn’t impress me at all,” says Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter in England and co-author of the book, “Trick or Treatment.” Acupuncture “clearly has a very strong placebo effect. Whether it does anything else, the jury is still out.”

Even so, the use of acupuncture continues to spread—often alongside conventional medicine. U.S. Navy, Air Force and Army doctors are using acupuncture to treat musculoskeletal problems, pain and stress in stateside hospitals and combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Delegations from Acupuncturists Without Borders are holding communal ear-needling sessions to reduce stress among earthquake victims in Haiti. Major medical centers—from M.D. Anderson in Houston to Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York—use acupuncture to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy.

In a 2007 survey, 3.2 million Americans had undergone acupuncture in the past year—up from 2.1 million in 2001, according to the government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The most common uses are for chronic pain conditions like arthritis, lower back pain and headaches, as well as fatigue, anxiety and digestive problems, often when conventional medicine fails. At about $50 per session, it’s relatively inexpensive and covered by some insurers.

It is also generally safe. About 10% of patients experience some bleeding at the needle sites, although in very rare cases, fatalities have occurred due to infections or injury to vital organs, mostly due to inexperienced practitioners.

Most states require that acupuncturists be licensed, and the Food and Drug Administration requires that needles be new and sterile.

Diagnoses are complicated. An acupuncturist will examine a patient’s tongue and take three different pulses on each wrist, as well as asking questions about digestion, sleep and other habits, before determining which meridians may be blocked and where to place the needles. The 14 meridians are thought to be based on the rivers of China, and the 365 points may represent the days of the year. “Invaders” such as wind, cold, heat, dampness, dryness factor into illness, so can five phases known as fire, earth, metal, water and wood.

Using Acupuncture to Treat Stress

“It’s not like there’s a Merck Manual for acupuncture,” says Joseph M. Helms, who has trained some 4,000 physicians in acupuncture at his institute in Berkeley, Calif. “Every case is evaluated on an individual basis, based on the presentation of the patient and the knowledge of the acupuncturist.”

Dr. Helms notes that Western doctors also examine a patient’s tongue for signs of illness. As for qi, he says, while the word doesn’t exist in Western medicine, there are similar concepts. “We’ll say, ‘A 27-year-old female appears moribund; she doesn’t respond to stimuli. Or an 85-year old woman is exhibiting a vacant stare.’ We’re talking about the same energy and vitality, we’re just not making it a unique category that we quantify.”

Studies in the early 1980s found that acupuncture works in part by stimulating the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, much like vigorous exercise does. Now, a growing body of research suggests that it may have several mechanisms of action. Those include stimulating blood flow and tissue repair at the needle sites and sending nerve signals to the brain that regulate the perception of pain and reboot the autonomic nervous system, which governs unconscious functions such as heart beat, respiration and digestion, according to Alejandro Elorriaga, director of the medical acupuncture program at McMaster University in Ontario, which teaches a contemporary version to physicians.

[healthcolJ]Vitaly NapadowA specialized MRI scan shows the effects of acupuncture. The top two images show the brain of a healthy subject. In the middle two images, a patient with carpal tunnel syndrome registers pain (indicated by red and yellow). The bottom images show the calming effect (indicated by blue) in the brain after acupuncture.

“You can think Western, you can think Eastern. As long as your needle goes to the nerve, you will get some effect,” Dr. Elorriaga says.

What’s more, an odd phenomenon occurs when acupuncture needles are inserted into the body and rotated: Connective tissue wraps around them like spaghetti around a fork, according to ultrasound studies at the University of Vermont. Helene Langevin, research associate professor of neurology, says this action stretches cells in the connective tissue much like massage and yoga do, and may act like acupuncture meridians to send signals throughout the body. “That’s what we’re hoping to study next,” she says.

Meanwhile, neuroimaging studies at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have shown that acupuncture affects a network of systems in the brain, including decreasing activity in the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain, and activating it in the parts of the brain that typically light up when the brain is at rest.

Other studies at the Martinos Center have shown that patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful compression of nerves in the wrist, have heightened activity in parts of the brain that regulate sensation and fear, but after acupuncture, their brain patterns more closely resemble those of healthy subjects. Brain scans of patients with fibromyalgia show that both acupuncture and sham acupuncture (using real needles on random points in the body) cause the release of endorphins. But real acupuncture also increased the number of receptors for pain-reducing neurotransmitters, bringing patients even more relief.

The fact that many patients get some relief and register some brain changes from fake acupuncture has caused controversy in designing clinical trials. Some critics say that proves that what patients think of as benefit from acupuncture is mainly the placebo effect. Acupuncture proponents counter that placebos that too closely mimic the treatment experience may have a real benefit.

“I don’t see any disconnect between how acupuncture works and how a placebo works,” says radiologist Vitaly Napadow at the Martinos center. “The body knows how to heal itself. That’s what a placebo does, too.”


© Donna Sigmond, EastWest Wellness