Does acupuncture rewire the brain for pain?

The research on acupuncture for pain is heading in an exciting new direction!  The latest breakthrough study published in the medical journal Brain this year showed promising data that took into account acupuncture’s local effects for pain as well as acupuncture’s effect on the brain.   Acupuncturists have been frustrated for years by studies that focus on just one effect of acupuncture, ignoring the holistic nature of the medicine that treats the mind and body together.   It is very important that research has finally turned a corner and is looking at multiple effects of acupuncture during treatment. 

To briefly summarize, the researchers used before and after MRI of the patient’s brain to compare sham acupuncture controls (non-insertion needles) with real acupuncture to treat carpal tunnel pain.  The study concludes that real acupuncture at the affected hand led to measurable improvements in outcomes both at the affected wrist and in the brain.  Additionally brain remapping immediately after real acupuncture was linked to long-term improvements in carpal tunnel pain.  No physiologic improvements resulted from sham acupuncture. 

So what exactly is happening to the brain during acupuncture in this study?  The somatosensory cortex area in the brain has specific points that correspond to the wrist and these were assessed as having undergone neuroplastic changes associated with decreased pain.  This means that acupuncture stimulation directed the brain to rewire its pain memory of carpal tunnel wrist pain, allowing it to respond to local treatment and heal more efficiently.  This is an incredible find, and points the direction clearly for where future research on acupuncture and pain needs to concentrate.  

At Triangle Acupuncture Clinic we see many cases of chronic pain that have a neurologic component where essentially the brain can’t “forget” that there was once an injury to the back for example.   This leads to lifetimes of suffering and the overuse of opiods and painkillers.   The fact that acupuncture is being shown to deal with this component of pain management is a very big deal indeed!   It could have truly groundbreaking implications in the future of medicine should hospitals and doctors choose to utilize acupuncture more frequently.   

Massage to Enhance Fertility

In addition to acupuncture and herbal medicine to enhance your fertility, we like to recommend other complementary modalities that can benefit women trying to conceive.  This month I interviewed Ashley Talarico, the massage therapist and owner of Women’s Wellness Massage.   She has been trained and certified in Fertility Massage and provides individualized plans for a woman’s specific needs.  Read my interview below:

Katherine:  What sparked your interest when you initially decided to focus on Women’s Health Massage?

Ashley:  My passion is to help guide women through the stages of a healthy pregnancy with the assistance of massage therapy. In my own experiences with conception and pregnancy, I have personally utilized the techniques that I now implement.

 

Katherine:  What is different about fertility massage vs. regular massage?  

Ashley: Fertility Massage is a specialized and effective protocol that includes cranial sacral holds, castor oil packs, reflexology, pelvic techniques, uterus re-alignment and shiatsu points. This is a perfect therapeutic massage for women who are trying to conceive.

 

Katherine:  What are the biggest benefits your patients get out of the fertility focused massage?

Ashley: Many benefits!  These are the top 6-

Deep relaxation and stress reduction 
Pain and tension relief 
Cleansing of the digestive system with castor oil packs 
Balancing the alignment of the body with cranial-sacral holds 
Balancing hormones through 
Reflexology techniques Increased circulation through the entire body, including the pelvis

 

Katherine:  Do most clients follow a series of appointments or how often do you recommend they come to get the most support when trying to conceive? 

Ashley:  I always recommend that clients schedule as many Fertility Massage sessions as possible between menses and ovulation for optimal results. Timing can vary depending on their cycles and assisted treatments (IUI, IVF, etc). I tailor my schedule and availability to be as flexible as possible, in order to accommodate the needs of my fertility clients. 

 

There you go!  Another great way to support yourself while trying to conceive.  You can reach Ashley at womenswellnessmassage.com and (201) 258-0505.

Take Back Valentine’s Day for Yourself

We all need to feel loved, right?  Relying on someone else to buy you roses and chocolate – to appreciate you and love you – that is a tall order.  What if we turned the tables and made Valentine’s Day about loving ourselves?  I am encouraging you to pick out your own awesome chocolate and flowers to celebrate yourself this month. 

My days in the clinic are filled with people who are struggling with health issues while balancing a myriad of work, family and community obligations.  Usually there is very little time in the day to think about nurturing oneself.  When I ask, “what do you do each day to relax and take care of yourself?” The most common answer is a blank stare or “bootcamp class.”  This is unacceptable!!

It is time to quiet the worried, negative voice in our minds and to start intentionally having time each day where we focus on love for ourselves.  To get you started, this is a short meditation that you can do before you get out of bed in the morning and before you go to sleep at night, and anytime in between when you need a quick boost.

  • Close your eyes
  • Take three slow deep breaths
  • Take three more deep breaths: inhale “More,” exhale “Love”
  • Visualize another “you” walking up to you and giving you a big warm hug
  • Hold this feeling and stay there as long as you like
  • Thank the other “you” for showing up
  • Take three slow deep breaths

This type of loving meditation when practiced daily will start to shift your relationship with your self.  It will bring more attention to the need to be nice to yourself, to take care of this person – you. 

Happy Valentine’s Day to each of you, may you find your love for you this February. 

Treat Stress with Acupuncture

By Rick Oberg

Treating Stress with Acupuncture isn’t a new concept. Stress has been a common factor in the majority of my patients. However, stress has become a more predominant and overwhelming theme recently. The beginning of a new year always tends to be a stressful period for people. Patients are dealing with lingering holiday season stress, worrying about expenses due to holiday spending, businesses are hitting their slower season, taxes are needing to be filed, and patients are feeling the pressure to also fit in their New Year resolutions into their already busy schedule. No matter what side patients align with in the current political landscape, it seems that political fatigue from the election is causing extra stress now as the country tries to adjust.

Everyone experiences stress differently. Some people can handle great amounts of stress (and maybe even thrive on it) while others struggle and feel overwhelmed with even the smallest amount of stress. What seems to be the one constant is that everyone will reach a point when the stress becomes too much for them to deal with and causes negative effects on the mind and body. Stress can weaken the immune system, cause higher blood pressure, fatigue, inflammation, anxiety, depression, and even heart disease. In fact, we are still learning about all of the various impacts stress has on the body.

What signs should we look for and how do we know we are experiencing too much stress?

Here are some of the more common symptoms of stress:

  • Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
  • Getting sick more often with colds
  • Body aches
  • Other illnesses like flare ups of autoimmune diseases
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Trouble falling sleeping or staying awake
  • Changes in appetite
  • More angry or anxious than usual

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but Acupuncture is an effective treatment for patients dealing with the effects, which is good news. A new study from Georgetown University Medical Center, published in the Journal Endocrinology, studies how Acupuncture works to treat stress. In this study, it proves that Acupuncture targets the same key pathways that are effected by stress. The study found Acupuncture can block the NPY sympathetic pathway and the chronic, stress induced elevations of HPA ( Hypothalamus - Pituitary- Adrenal axis ) which is involved in the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. The study also confirms that acupuncture is not only an effective treatment for stress, but it also confirms its effects on treating anxiety and depression.

With over thirteen years experience in treating stress, anxiety, and depression, I can confirm the benefits in clinical practice. My Patients feel more relaxed immediately and feel as though they have just finished deep meditation. Patients report not only experiencing a reduction in the symptoms, but feeling a newly revived lease on life. They are more successful in their work environment, happier in their home lives, feel healthier (mentally and physically), tend to eat better, and they start taking better care of themselves. Stress can be overwhelming, but Acupuncture can effectively treat and bring about the positive changes patients need to really enjoy life again. 

Golden Milk Turmeric Tea

Have you been hearing the buzz about drinking Golden Milk to cure almost everything?  This beverage’s main ingredient is turmeric, the spice that is responsible for the yellow color of many curry dishes.  In the clinic, our patients who experiment with taking turmeric for chronic pain have had great results.  Turmeric’s active component, curcumin, has over 600 health benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory to anti-carcinogenic.  It has been used to promote digestive health, regulate metabolism and weight, maintain cholesterol levels, boost memory and brain function and boost immunity.  So now that we’ve established that everyone over the age of 5 needs to start drinking Golden Milk pronto, here is our beloved Nital with her family’s recipe.  She started drinking Golden Milk as a kid growing up in India and still makes it each night before bed. 

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Fight Inflammation with Diet

Inflammation is a driver for many types of disease processes from Alzheimer’s to Cancer and Heart Disease.  Inflammation also plays a role in tight muscles and chronic pains.  If you haven’t ever tried an anti-inflammation diet, then you probably don’t know just how good your body can feel. 

There are 8 easy rules to follow:

  • No Processed foods
  • Strive to eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day – with an emphasis on colors, extra points for red, blue and dark greens. 
  • Proteins should be primarily fish, beans and whole soy products like tofu and tempeh.  Lean meats, eggs and cheese limit to 2 servings per week.
  • Eat lots of fats each day including extra virgin olive oil, avocados, seeds and nuts, walnut or hazelnut oils. 
  • Eat whole grains like brown, white or wild rice, barley, oats and quinoa daily.  Can also have rice noodles and Japanese noodles like udon and soba up to 3 servings a week.
  • Drink lots of water and white, green or oolong teas daily.
  • Include turmeric, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, cinnamon in your cooking
  • Eat 70% dark chocolate as your dessert

Following these 8 rules will make sure that you get lots of antioxidants and plenty of fiber.  It is uncomfortable at first to forgo a lot of processed diet staples but eating whole foods like this should be our norm.  The processed foods should be treats only on occassion, and actually become less attractive once you eliminate the chips/crackers and cereals completely.  A diet like this is great to try for two weeks but if you can find a good rhythm with it, this is a long-term solution to reducing inflammation in your body.  Eating this way can help cure some common aches and pains while also helping prevent major health concerns.  Give it a try - you have everything to gain!  

Panzanella with Immune Boosting Lemon Garlic Dressing

Make 2017 the year that you love eating veggies with recipes like these!

This is a hearty but refreshing salad recipe that I make at least every other week.  And yes, gasp, bread is one of the feature ingredients!  If you are not eating bread then of course you can leave it out, but only if you have to.  There are endless variations to keep it interesting and it is an excellent wintertime recipe as it is best eaten at room temp, not cold. 

In this recipe I share a garlic trick I learned from my mom who makes all of her salad dressings from scratch.  It involves smashing the garlic with the side of your knife, using a little salt to grind and smash it until it is liquid-y.  This releases all of the juices and flavor and good-for-you ingredients garlic has to offer.  Especially important to keep your immune system in top form during the winter!

Ingredients:

1 loaf of very crusty bread chopped

1 English cucumber, halved and sliced

Couple handfuls of grape tomatoes cut in half or 4 big tomatoes chopped

½ medium red onion sliced thinly

¼ cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar

1 biggish garlic clove

½ lemon juiced

¼ tsp salt

fresh ground pepper

 

Method:

Arrange the bread cubes on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Bake at 275 F for about 20 minutes until the bread is crisp but not browned. 

In a large bowl combine bread, cucumber, tomatoes and onion.  (For variations, you can add chick-peas, olives, zucchini, etc)

Make the dressing:  Take the clove of garlic and mince on a cutting board.  Add the ¼ tsp of salt on top of the little mound of minced garlic.  With the flat side of the blade, use the knife to smash the garlic.  Smash through the mound, re-mound it and then smash through it again and again until you have created a garlic paste.   This is the way to get maximum flavor out of garlic for any recipe that calls for garlic.  (Mix smashed garlic with melted butter to make amazing garlic bread)  In a jar, add the smashed garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and fresh ground pepper.  Shake your dressing and then add to the bowl of veggies, stirring to coat.  Let it sit for one hour at room temp then enjoy! 

A Resolution for Stress

Looking back on 2016, for many reasons it was a difficult and stressful year for many of us.  Sometimes life just gets hard, right?  Not to mention the collective stress of the election was shocking in its intensity.  No matter what else was going on in your life, the negativity and anger surrounding politics this fall was painful.  What do we do with all of those feelings now?  What did you do to cope?  How much stress can we actually handle? 

Over the holidays I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I can better prepare myself for stress.  How can I strengthen my calming reflex so that I can withstand discomfort and difficult feelings without letting it ruin my mood for an entire day or days at a time?  Obviously, I can get acupuncture more regularly and that is great maintenance for chronic stress.  In addition though, what keeps coming up as the solution for me is sticking with a Mindfulness Practice. 

Mindfulness or “Being Present” is a form of meditation but one that you practice throughout the day.  It is a simple concept.  If you are completely present, external forces and worries are no longer a problem because there is only you and your current focus.  For example, if at work your job demands that you take care of an urgent task, you can stress out about it because you have a long list of other things to do.  Or you can be present and focus completely on that task, and now there is only that task and you.  When you’re done, you can move on to the next task.  See?  No stress.

If you are cooking dinner and your child interrupts you, you can stress out about getting dinner done on time or you can shift focus and then there is only you and your child.  You can appreciate who your child is and be grateful for the moment you have with her.  Then you go back to making dinner.  No irritation, no stress. 

The general idea is that stress is created in our minds.  Training your mind to be present becomes a way to handle any problem.  It allows everything else to fade away, leaving only you and whatever you’re dealing with right now.  This is, of course, a practice.  Meaning that it is fully expected to be challenging to do at first.  I have dabbled in the Practice of Being Present for years but am making 2017 the year that I anchor it deep within my daily life.  I hope that I can inspire you as well to find a mindfulness practice to keep stress at bay this year.  When I get particularly overwhelmed, this quote is my favorite reminder:

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the Earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.  Live the actual moment.  Only this moment is life.”  Thich Nhat Hanh

Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy 2017!

Tis the Season of Thanks and Giving

The holidays are just around the corner so it’s time to get some folks crossed off your list!  Give the gift of health and peaceful relaxation this year with a gift card to TAC!   Gift cards are available in any quantity, and we make it a breeze: you can stop by either our Raleigh or Chapel Hill clinic locations, or simply call and pay via credit card and we'll mail or email you the gift card. 

For the months of November and December in Chapel Hill, massage gift cards are buy 5, get 1 free! You can keep them for yourself or give them as gifts. 

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and joyful winter holidays!

From all of us at Triangle Acupuncture Clinic

Vegetable Fatigue?  Tahini is here!

The hardest part of sticking to a low carb or healthier way of eating is many times more about boredom than it is cheating.   Here are two great Tahini sauces that contribute different delicious flavors to vegetable staples like broccoli, green beans, sautéed greens, sweet potatoes, raw veggies and salads.  Both of these sauces will make eating raw, steamed or roasted vegetables flavorful and exciting again.   The bonus is that Tahini is derived from ground sesame seeds, imparting all kinds of healthy fats and nutrition to keep you full and satisfied. 

 

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