Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to be invited to a Live Dissection at St. Michael’s Hospital in Bristol. (Thanks to the Osteopathic Council who snuck me in as an honorary Osteopath for the day!) I was worried they might suss me out with my poor anatomy knowledge (it’s been 10 years since I studied that stuff) but i’m pleased to say I did not let the acupuncture community down. Even shouted out a couple of the answers… not because I wanted to show off, just because I got overly excited!
This was a Pro Dissection, which means that the bodies had already been dissected to different stages so we were not let loose with scalpels. But we were encouraged to get stuck in, moving the limbs to see how the tendons interact, feeling the different textures of the tissues and bones and noticing where and how they insert to the rest of the skeleton. For someone who had never been to a dissection or even see a dead body before I was a little nervous at how I’d react. I did have a bit of a moment when we got to the dissected brains where I thought I might faint, but there was a lack of strong looking osteopaths that I thought might be able to catch me, so I managed to pull myself together.
You might wonder why an acupuncturist would be interested in going along to this kind of training and a lot of my acu buddies were asking exactly that! But to me, the human body is so fascinating, so intricate, that to be given the chance to literally see it in the flesh is one I just couldn’t miss out on.
The most interesting part for me was to actually see and handle fascia. Fascia is a band of connective tissues that wrap around organs and muscles to protect them. For acupuncturists, fascia is particularly important as acupuncture channels lie between the skin and the fascia, therefore, acupuncture needles need to penetrate to the level of the fascia. I was able to get an idea of the different depths where the fascia sits depending on which part of the body we were looking at, but the really remarkable part was just how impenetrable fascia would be to a average gauge acupuncture needle. As acupuncturists, we really get a sense of how the fascia feels under our fingertips when the needle gets to the correct depth, but it really showed me how safe the practice of acupuncture is, as fascia is just far too thick and strong for the average needle to get through, meaning that organs and vital tissues are protected. The body really is an amazing thing!
Another good thing to take away from the session is that I managed to flummox a final year med student, when he asked how we might treat plantar fasciitis, I told him I would put needles in the hand. When he pointed out it was a foot problem I was able to politely tell him that I knew that, but I would still put needles in the hand. It might not sound that funny to you but I was smiling! You see, the body has an amazing network system whereby the fascia interconnects with different areas around the body, this is essentially how acupuncture channels interconnect. So by needling an area which is not where the person is experiencing pain, you can directly affect the painful area. It will be instant, because the body carries signals at an incredible pace. And if the acupuncturist has done their job properly it will be cured, because the body has the unique ability to mend itself.
So all in all, a great day out… I came away from the hospital feeling so lucky that my work allows me to do some pretty cool stuff. I also left feeling hungry, because apparently formaldehyde will do that to a person!
Some of my patients will know that I have been trialling a new service which has the ability to map the female sex hormones throughout the cycle, and due to its success I am now recommending hormone testing to all of my fertility couples.
The diagnostic tests use saliva taken at certain points throughout the female cycle to check the varying levels of progesterone, oestradial, DHEA, cortisol, testosterone and melatonin which all have an effect on fertility. Most patients struggling with fertility will have the obligatory blood tests ordered by the GP to check for FSH levels at the beginning of the cycle, and the 21 day blood test to check for post-ovulation hormones. However, blood only contains a small amount of hormone compared to saliva and so is often not an altogether accurate reflection of the level of hormone present in the body. Also there can be difficulties with the 21 day blood test as often patients don’t ovulate at day 14, particularly if struggling with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome making the test invalid. The saliva testing maps your hormone levels throughout the cycle and so we can gain a better understanding of the interaction between all the relevant hormones needed for conception.
Once the saliva is collected, it is sent to labs in the UK and America who are able to produce a comprehensive report available to the practitioner who can then prescribe the relevant supplements and treatment plan to best balance the hormones.
I have been trialling this service for the past 3 months and of the patients that have taken part, 75% have already conceived. It is able to give me a much greater insight into my patients’ state of health and where our focus needs to lie and I’m finding it an invaluable diagnostic tool. For this reason I have been urging all my fertility couples to try saliva testing to give us the best possible chance for a positive outcome.
If you would like to give it a go, please just mention it to me at your next consultation and we can talk through whether this option would be right for you.
I’ve somewhat neglected by blogging and once I’ve got all the exciting new plans I’ve been working on up and running I’ll get back to posting some more regular updates. But for now, I just had to put a post out there to congratulate my four IVF couples that all had positive test results this month! That’s 6 positive tests in a row if you count February too so I’m really pleased that they’ve all done so well.
The research says that acupuncture increases fertility rates by 67% when coupled with IVF but I think these results certainly tip the scales! But a big well done should be given to all those couples who stuck to all the advice and worked just as hard as I did to get them there.
Well done you guys! You know who you are! :)
It’s been a little while since I wrote my last blog but I had an interesting case this week that I felt may be of interest to you all. Largely because the symptoms presented themselves as minor and without any medical knowledge you might think trivial, but it fast turned into an emergency situation.
A 59 year old female patient came to see me for her routine maintenance check. She mentioned in passing that she had experienced a couple of strange flashes of light in her eyes the previous evening. On further questioning she felt that her floaters (which she already had a history of) seemed a little worse and she thought her vision might be a little blurry.
My training in Western Medicine led me to think that my patient might be experiencing symptoms indicative of a detached retina where the retina itself starts to tear away from the tissue of the eye. It is a serious problem that if left untreated can cause visual impairment and blindness and it is certainly a condition that needs to be treated quickly to avoid any lasting damage.
I referred her as an emergency to her GP who instantly referred her to an eye specialist at her local hospital. The Consultant confirmed my suspicions that she was experiencing a retinal tear and she underwent emergency laser surgery that day and further operations over the course of several weeks to stop her retina from detaching. Despite these gruelling procedures she is now on the road to recovery. Her consultant has given her a good prognosis that there should’t be any lasting damage and I will continue to treat her with acupuncture to make for a speedy recovery.
So all in all a good story, but all credit to the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine for their extensive Western Medical programme. As gruelling the study was at the time it has given us graduates a great platform and supplied us with the knowledge to provide the best possible care for our patients.
January is the month of ridiculous diets following the Christmas over-indulgence. Bookshop shelves become full of “How I lost 12 stones with the ‘eat nothing but cake’” diet and “Eat Yourself Thin, Volume 3” . You start asking your friends how they lost their weight and the stories differ so much. This is because, and I’m going to say something quite profound… We are all different! Of course we all know this but when it comes to dieting we seem to forget! What will work for your next door neighbour won’t necessarily work for you and serial dieters find that they jump from one diet to the next hoping they’ll find the answer to miracle weight loss.
When it comes to dieting you need to look at the body as a whole and gain insight into the reasons why a person might be struggling to lose weight. From a Chinese medical perspective it really could come from anywhere. We all know a sluggish metabolism is a culprit but weight gain could be borne out of Liver disharmony, pathogens or emotional issues. Certainly, if I treat a patient who is wanting to shift a few pounds I approach it as I would treat a backache or a headache. First I ask myself, “What’s the root cause of the problem?” Is it as simple as a sluggish metabolism, or are there other health issues at play? Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can be used to improve the function of the organs responsible for digestion and transit through the body and so an acupuncturist can bring about a healthier and better functioning digestive system. This, in turn will aid the body to either lose or gain weight depending on what the body needs.
If we go to a Chinese restaurant, we are given a menu, we pick what we like and enjoy! In China, you often wouldn’t be given a menu at all. The waiter would ask you how you feel, and based on your response the chef would cook you a plate of food to treat your particular mood or ailment. It’s a shame that we don’t have the same understanding in the West of how food can be used as medicine.
In my clinic, my patients often tell me they feel lethargic, tired and lacking in energy. When I ask them about their diet the answers are often the same; skipping meals, eating on the run, quick and easy convenience food. Like an engine running on petrol, we run on food. And so if we don’t give ourselves foods rich in nutrients how can we ever manufacture the energy we need? Of course we would be sluggish, tired and lacking in energy.
Then there are some patients who eat a great diet, conventionally speaking, but still struggle to lose weight and feel tired and sluggish. This is often because although we view them as healthy, nutritionally good foods can be energetically wrong for that particular person.
An acupuncturist is trained in dietary therapy and so we have an understanding of food energetics. Some foods can be very heating to your system, such as ginger and chilli. Some are very cooling such as mint or watermelon. Some are nourishing to your Qi or energy such as rice or butternut squash. Some are nourishing to your blood such as red meat or apricots. If you eat a lot of one particular type of food you could be cooling down an already ‘cold’ system which would only act to make your system more sluggish, etc. So it is important that you as the patient have an understanding of your own energetics so that you can be aware of foods that will help and hinder you.
In my clinic I often talk to patients about their diet and provide individualised lists of foods that would help to treat their particular condition. It can be so difficult to know what you should and shouldn’t be eating so I feel this can give a patient the focus needed to maintain a healthy diet that is completely tailored to the individual.
At the beginning of July I received the very good news that not one but two of my IVF patients had positive pregnancy tests. Which meant that I recently got the news through about the long anticipated first scan! Both ladies have reported that babies are doing well and have good strong heartbeats.
It’s so rewarding for me to be able to help patients through this emotional and life-changing journey, and it’s even lovelier to receive photos of newborns sent in from patients I have helped in the past.
With IVF becoming more common the success rates for the IUI procedure is between 5 and 20%. I have treated lots of ladies undergoing IUI procedures and have found that the IUI procedure combined with acupuncture increases the success rate quite dramatically! My success rate is currently 85%.
However the individual patient also has a huge part to play in determining the outcome of a positive test result. I have been very lucky to treat ladies who are willing to do whatever it takes and listen to advice and more importantly follow it to the t. Where I have not been successful is where patients don’t heed the advice and rush back to work too soon or neglect their diet. It is important to remember that you have been through a pretty invasive procedure, not to mention the drugs and anaesthesia that you would have taken. An assisted fertility procedure is not like a normal contraception at all and patients should treat it as they would any operation and have some serious rest and recovery time before they get back to their normal lives.
Of course some ladies don’t need to go through the IVF procedure at all. It is quite likely that some infertile couples may just need a little energetic fine-tuning to conceive and it does upset me when some ladies run straight to the IVF route without trying some of the alternatives out there. It’s much less invasive and drug-free! So please talk to an acupuncturist first if you are thinking about trying IVF as it may not be necessary.
So with that lecture over, I look forward to helping lots more ladies in the future!
Acupuncture Awareness Week is a nationwide event with its focus this year on back pain. In conjunction with The British Acupuncture Council, it is us acupuncturists jobs to get out into the local community and put to rest some of the common misconceptions surrounding acupuncture.
National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines which all GPs and medical professionals need to follow advises that GPs should refer patients to acupuncture if they’re experiencing chronic non-specific low back pain and so therefore acupuncture should be the first port of call. Sadly for most patients I see, acupuncture was the last resort and patients often tell me they wished they’d known about the benefits of acupuncture sooner… so that is what Acupuncture Awareness Week is all about!
I will be available all this week to answer any questions you may have about acupuncture treatment via my Facebook page www.facebook.com/pages/VerityAllenAcupunture or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 07789553954.
I suppose the easiest question to clear up right here is that the insertion of acupuncture needles is not a painful process. The needles are as thin as a strand of hair and some needles may only penetrate up to 2 or 3 millimetres. My patients describe acupuncture as a pleasurable, relaxing experience and is so dissimilar from the experience you might receive when you need to give a blood test or get a vaccine.
If you would like to try treatment yourself please call on 07789553954 or email email@example.com to reserve your space.
My congratulations go out to 3 of my patients this month who gave birth to bouncing babies and a further congratulations to 2 patients who found out they were pregnant this month. I’m not sure which I’m more excited about! 2014 certainly is off to a flying start!
It’s got me thinking about how many acupuncture babies might have been born last year. I’ve done the rough workings out for my clinic alone and that stands at 14 healthy babies. And plenty more mums who are due to have their babies this year. Certainly my acupuncturist friends also have good stories to tell about the women they’ve helped so there must be hundreds of babies, mummies and daddies out there who all owe it to acupuncture. It just makes me feel grateful that I can be involved in this wonderful experience.
Acupuncture really is hugely beneficial in helping fertility problems for both men and women and the results speak for themselves!
Verity Allen - BSc, BA, MBAcC, Lic Ac