My Aching Spleen

So here it is, the day after Halloween. Depending on where you live you may not have gotten all that many trick or treaters last night, so you probably have a lot of candy left over. Be careful not to each too much at once—it’s like your mother always said, you might end up with a tummy ache. But really, what is this all about?

According to Chinese medicine, the two organs most related to digestion are the stomach and the spleen. We all know what the stomach does, but most of us have no idea what the spleen does. In western science we consider the spleen a secondary immune organ, mostly filtering white blood cells. However, in Chinese medicine it may be the most important organ in the body!

The stomach and spleen work together to digest the food that we eat. The role of the stomach is to “rot and ripen” the food. But it needs the spleen in order to do this. The spleen’s job is to keep the stomach warm so that it can break down our food. In Chinese medicine we often say that the stomach is the pot and the spleen is the stove.

What this means in plain language is that the food we eat should support our digestive organs. When we eat a lot of cold, raw, or sweet foods, it dampens and cools the spleen, making it more difficult for the stomach to efficiently process food. What happens then? Well, for starters, we get a stomachache. In addition, we might have a whole host of other conditions including water retention, weight gain, acid reflux, irritable bowels—pretty much anything having to do with the digestion.

So, enjoy the candy, but like your mother warned you—everything in moderation!

Happy November 1st!

Children’s Acupuncture, a.k.a. shonishin

You might be wondering if acupuncture might benefit the youngest among us. The short answer is absolutely! We even have a name for children’s acupuncture: shonishin, a word borrowed from Japanese. One of the most common questions I receive is how a baby or a child would sit still for an acupuncture treatment. Until they are about 8 or 9 years old, their treatments look a little different from what you might be used to.

As a seasoned acupuncturist who has treated children from 6 weeks old through the teenage years, I have several tools at my disposal. The most important tool I have, aside from the parents themselves (something I’ll go into further detail in a bit), is a small gold-plated instrument. One end of the tool is slightly rounded for brushing the skin and the other end is a blunted tip for light pressure.

Children have energy (Qi) as adults do, but because they are younger, their Qi is more available on the surface, rather than deeper like ours. It is for this reason that actual acupuncture is optional in shonishin. A typical treatment of a young child or baby lasts between 15-20 minutes, and involves a combination of gentle finger pressure, brushing of the skin with my specialized pediatric tools, light massage, and if appropriate, inserting needles and immediately removing them. There is no physical discomfort experienced by the child (or the parents!). In fact, I often get giggles from ticklish toddlers.

Anther important tool is the parents. Because treatment is most effective when administered on a regular basis, I often show parents how to massage their children in specific areas to treat their ailment. For example, my home remedy for allergies is to have the parents gently stroke their child’s third eye area and down the sides of the nose. If a child is old enough for self-care, I show him or her how to apply pressure on specific meridians.

While I leave more serious conditions to be treated by western physicians, there are many ailments that respond very well to shonishin. My most common ailments include gastric reflux in infants, allergies, colds and flu, digestive disorders, anxiety and concentration issues.

In addition to shonishin I often make recommendations for western and eastern herbs, vitamins, and supplements. Most children respond very quickly to a combination of shonishin and supplements.  And parents, you know that when your child is healthy, you sleep better at night! You owe it to yourselves, so consider shonishin the next time your child is ill!

World Series and what it might mean for your health

Tonight is Game 1 of the 2010 World Series–the San Francisco Giants against the Texas Rangers!

I know that not everyone reading this is a baseball fan, but keep reading to see how similar we are to all of the Giants and Rangers players.  Professional baseball players have gotten where they are for a variety of reasons: raw talent, sheer luck, and physical conditioning, among other things. You may think that you have nothing in common with  professional athletes, but you do. One of the key components to their success is that each athlete has a team of health care providers both on and off the ball field. Without this team of medical professionals, these athletes would not be where they are today.

What does this mean for the rest of us? We all have our own team of professionals. Look around you; who are the ones who keep you going on a daily basis? Who helps you out when you’re hurt or ill? More importantly, who helps keep you going when you are well? Wellness care is equally essential, if not more, than intervention during illness. In fact, in ancient China, doctors were often fired when their patients became ill.

Western medicine is designed to treat illness, and in a lot of ways it excels in its endeavor. However, can you imagine a life with minimal pain or illness? While we all hold a different key to our own health, here are some ways to bring your health back to your consciousness:

1) Sleep. It can be as simple as knowing your natural circadian rhythm. As much as you can, allow yourself to fall asleep naturally, then see what time you wake up, without help from an alarm. You’ll learn a lot about your internal clock, and may not have to fight the pillow as much if you can keep to your natural rhythm.

2) Exercise. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to work out 5 times per week in a gym. Look at your day-to-day patterns. Are you sitting for 9 hours at work and then another 4 -6 at home? Stand up more, walk the halls, get outside at lunch, and take the breaks that are provided to you.

3) Gather your friends. Keep up your friendships, be active with them, make meals together, enjoy cups of coffee or glasses of wine, and be sure to laugh on a regular basis.

4) Gather your health team. Keep up on your regular dental appointments, get acupuncture monthly even when you feel fine, see a great chiropractor or pilates instructor to keep up your physical alignment. If money is a concern, stagger your appointments so that you have something every other week. The bottom line is that health is cheaper than illness.

And, for those Giants fans, go team!

My wrist injury, or how I became an acupuncturist

One of the most common questions I get is about my story. Why am I an acupuncturist? The answer is rather simple: because I had it and it worked!

But there’s a little more to it than just that. I was 25 years old, just a few years out of school (UCSC, Stevenson College), and was working as an office manager for an educational non-profit. Just the perfect job for a history major…in any event, as much as I loved the mission of the organization and my co-workers, I knew it was not my passion. I also knew that I needed to be in the field of medicine. I considered many options before acupuncture even entered my consciousness: massage therapy, homeopathy, chiropractic, psychotherapy and naturopathic medicine. As I pondered the possibilities I realized that massage therapy was out because of an old wrist injury. But as all things serendipitous, it was this wrist injury that got me to where I am today. For two years I had been suffering from a wrist injury that severely impeded my range of motion. One day out of the blue, a co-worker mentioned that she was on her way to an acupuncture appointment. Suddenly it dawned on me. I had no idea what acupuncture could treat, but I thought I’d find out. I called my co-worker’s acupuncturist and described my injury. She sounded confident, so I made an appointment for the following week.

It was after work on a Friday in September, and after looking for her house on the wrong street (my partner, who was there for moral support, and I realized we needed to be on 2nd instead of 3rd Avenue), we rang the bell and were invited into Jan’s home. She had a special treatment room off the main hallway. It was small and cozy. She proceeded to ask me lots of questions about my health, the injury, and then felt my pulse and looked at my tongue. I mentioned that in addition to the wrist pain I had also been suffering from chronic allergies. For two years I was awoken every morning by a sneeze. She asked me to point to the my pain.  Then she nodded knowingly: that’s on the lung meridian. There may be a correlation, she explained, between the blockage on the wrist and the sneezing. I was amazed.

I was further amazed that the needles were nothing to be afraid of; quite the contrary. I felt terrific, both during the treatment and when I got up 45 minutes later!

The most amazing thing to me, however, was that when I woke up the next day I did not sneeze nor did my wrist hurt. After favoring it for two years I suddenly had full range of motion–after one simple acupuncture treatment!

It is no exaggeration when I tell you that I made up my mind the Saturday after my first acupuncture treatment to become an acupuncturist. Within three months I had quit my job at the non-profit, began working with my acupuncturist in her new office, and had begun school.

Years later I was lamenting to a patient that I wished everyone would respond as quickly and thoroughly as I did my first time. She pointed out to me that perhaps that was the way it was meant to be–so that I would be compelled to change my course in life and practice this medicine. I believe she may have been right.

Hello world!

Welcome to Boland Family Acupuncture!

This blog is set up to discuss all things related to the ancient art and science of traditional Eastern medicine. My goal is to create a lively, interactive forum about health, medicine, and life in general. I’ll include anecdotes, anything interesting in the news, humorous events and stories, etc.

Thanks for joining me!