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How to Treat Essential Tremor With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac, Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

essential tremor, hand shaking
Hand shaking is the most common sign of essential tremor

Shaking hands, body shaking for no reason, head shaking, feel wobbly when you’re walking, maybe your voice quivers when you speak? These could be signs of Essential Tremor (ET). Essential tremor is a neurological condition, often mistaken for Parkinson’s disease, which causes rhythmic shaking of parts of the body, especially the hands. Acupuncture and TCM are an effective way to treat symptoms of essential tremor.

Essential Tremor (ET), also called “kinetic tremor” or “benign essential tremor,” is a chronic nervous system disorder that causes hand tremors, trembling hands, head shaking, body tremors in the arms or legs, and can also affect the voice. The hand shaking most often happens when you try to perform some simple, yet specific task that requires coordinated movements or using tools, such as shaving, writing, or pouring liquid into a glass.

Essential tremor is the most common type of movement disorder, affecting about 4% of older adults, although it can happen at any age. The causes and progression of ET are not fully understood by medical science.

Tremors are categorized into two main types of tremors: resting or active. A resting tremor is when the body shakes even at rest. Active tremors are when there is shaking when a person is attempting to make voluntary movements. Essential tremor is a type of active tremor. 

“Postural tremor” refers to an active tremor that occurs when a person is trying to maintain a position, like standing with the arms outstretched, and cannot do it without shaking. An “internal tremor” is a person’s feeling that a quivering or shaking sensation is taking place inside their body, that cannot be seen by others.

Essential tremor is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, but, in fact, essential tremor is much more common than Parkinson’s (20 times more common). Like Parkinson’s, essential tremor causes hand shaking, but ET is different in that symptoms usually occur when you’re actively trying to do something, whereas Parkinson’s tremor occurs even when your limbs are at rest. Parkinson’s also typically involves non-motor symptoms as well as motor symptoms.

Other conditions can also cause hand tremors. Vascular parkinsonism, a neurological disorder that is the result of small strokes, causes blockage of blood flow in the brain. Both Parkinson’s and vascular parkinsonism can cause a distinct type of tremor that involves the thumb and fingers brushing together slowly, sometimes called a “pill-rolling tremor.”  Asterixis is another kind of motor control disorder that causes muscles to jerk, resulting in a characteristic hand-flapping gesture, sometimes referred to as “liver flap.”

There are many other conditions that can also cause tremors, including: hyperthyroidism, multiple sclerosis (MS), stroke, liver or kidney disease, and alcohol addiction. Anxiety or panic attacks can also cause a temporary tremor or shakiness.

Essential tremor seems to run in families sometimes, but many people begin to experience tremors for no apparent reason. It is theorized that ET may be caused by something genetic, or it may be caused by neurodegeneration–the gradual degradation and death of cells in the brain. 

Acupuncture, combined with other TCM modalities such as moxibustion and herbs, is a good method for reducing hand tremors and other symptoms of essential tremor, as it has been demonstrated to have positive effects on the generation of cells in the brain and nervous system, as well as reducing stress and anxiety.

Top 5 Essential Tremor Symptoms

hands shaking, hand tremors
Do your hands tremble when you’re trying to hold an object?

Very mild symptoms of essential tremor, such as having trouble threading a needle, often begin to show up when a person is in their 40s. Then, as time goes on, the symptoms of ET become more obvious:

  1. Tremor, especially in hands, that is most noticeable when you’re trying to do something
  2. Head nodding that you can’t control
  3. Shaking on one side of the body more than the other
  4. Voice quivers or voice is shaky when you speak
  5. Tremor gets worse over the years

Some medications (amphetamines, corticosteroids, or asthma medications) or stimulants like caffeine may make the tremors more noticeable. Some people find that the tremor lessens when they drink a moderate amount of wine or other alcohol. Stress, strong emotions, too much exertion, low blood sugar, or being dehydrated can make the tremor more pronounced.

Essential Tremor Treatment 

There is no specific test that shows whether a person has essential tremor. Diagnosis is based on observation of symptoms, and the use of testing to rule out other disorders, such as thyroid disease or Parkinson’s. 

Medications are used to treat tremors with varying levels of success. Propranolol and Atenolol are beta-blockers that can be helpful for some people with ET. Primidone or Topamax are anti-seizure (anti-epileptic) drugs that can also be prescribed to help relieve shaking. In many cases, these medications are not very helpful for relieving the tremors. Doctors may try anti-anxiety medications like Valium, Ativan, or Klonopin. Botox injections have also been tried as a medical treatment for essential tremor.

In some cases surgery to remove parts of the thalamus has helped stop severe tremors, but there is a high risk with this type of brain surgery. Nowadays, when drugs do not seem to provide relief from tremors, people may be referred for a thalamic deep brain stimulation therapy, in which electrodes send an electrical impulse to the brain to interrupt the faulty signals leading to involuntary shaking.

Acupuncture treatment is another way to stimulate brain activity, having a positive effect on neurotransmitters in the brain and reestablishing connections throughout the nervous system.

Can Acupuncture Help Essential Tremor?

Dr. Cai Tai Chi 5
Tai Chi exercise can help tremor.

According to TCM theory, the symptom of hand tremors generally originates from the liver and kidney systems. Liver blood deficiency and kidney deficiency are closely related, and can lead to rising Liver Yang, and Liver Wind. It is the pathogenic factor of wind that causes the hand shaking. We use acupuncture treatment and herbs to nourish the liver and kidney so that wind is subdued and yin and yang energies are balanced.

One study compared groups of people with ET who were treated with medication (Propranolol) versus patients treated with both acupuncture and medication. The results showed better results for the patients who received the combined therapies.

A hospital study in China showed that a combination of acupuncture treatment and herbal formulation had an over 80% efficacy rate for patients with benign essential tremor.

A recorded case study of a woman treated with acupuncture for tremor showed that she was better able to write and hold objects, and that the improvements were maintained even a year after she had completed acupuncture treatment.

Best Exercise for Hand Tremors

Regular exercise is important for everyone, especially as we age, in order to keep our physical and mental faculties strong and agile. Exercises that can be beneficial for people with essential tremor include:

  1. Regular cardiovascular exercise and light strength training
  2. Tai Qi
  3. Yoga
  4. Meditation
  5. Puzzles, math games, brain teasers, word searches, etc.

Acupuncture Near Me for Essential Tremor in West Los Angeles, Brentwood area

If you’ve started to notice your hands shaking, voice trembling, or that you’re feeling unsteady on your feet, don’t wait until the situation gets worse. Acupuncture treatment can help reduce the frequency and severity of hand tremors, and prevent essential tremor from progressing. The TCM doctors at Art of Wellness have over 35 years of experience treating all kinds of neurological disorders and helping people maintain their quality of life as they get older.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Treat HIV/AIDS With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac.,Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

HIV/AIDS
Living with HIV/AIDS can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.

What does it mean to be HIV positive? HIV is a viral infection that harms the immune system over time and, if untreated, can eventually lead to AIDS, a syndrome that causes people to become weaker and get serious infections easily. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are various therapies that can slow the progression of HIV. Acupuncture and TCM herbs can help to improve immune function and relieve symptoms related to the side effects of other HIV/AIDS drug therapies.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infection that affects the immune system by destroying the white blood cells (CD4 and T-cells) that are such an important part of the body’s immune response, causing people with HIV to be much more prone to all kinds of infections. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the late stage of HIV, in which the CD4 cells have reached a critical low point and other infections are taking hold in the body.

Over a million people in the U.S. are currently living with HIV. Many more people may have HIV and not know it. People can have HIV for several years without feeling any symptoms, while the illness is in its early stages.

HIV is a progressive illness, which affects the functioning of the immune system over a long period of time.

4 Stages of HIV Infection:

  1. Infection – when a person contracts the HIV virus, it spreads quickly in the body, often causing flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, rash, sore throat. If you have these types of symptoms, and you think you may have had contact with an infected person or a needle recently, it is very important to go get tested for HIV. Early testing allows people to get treatment as soon as possible, and to know if they are contagious and can spread the virus to others.
  2. Asymptomatic – the HIV virus remains in the body, causing damage to cells and weakening the immune system, while the person may have no symptoms of HIV/AIDS. This latent stage of HIV can last for quite a long time, averaging 8-10 years. This is why many people do not realize they have HIV until they are tested.
  3. Symptomatic – Eventually, a person with HIV will begin to feel the effects: fatigue, mouth sores from oral candidiasis, diarrhea, and weight loss. Other infectious diseases can easily get into the body because of the weakened immune system; these are called opportunistic infections. Common co-infections associated with HIV include:  tuberculosis (TB), cryptococcal meningitis, toxoplasmosis, hepatitis, and pneumonia.
  4. HIV progression to AIDS – In some cases, people with HIV who receive treatment to help boost their immunity are able to stave off progression into the AIDS stage of illness. However, if the CD4 cell count drops and other infections take hold, a person is considered to have progressed into the AIDS stage. 

Being diagnosed with HIV can be emotionally devastating. Knowing you have a serious illness with no cure is naturally going to cause a lot of stress, feelings of anxiety, and even depression. With good health care, it is possible these days to live a long life with HIV. Putting together a team of caring health care professionals who can provide integrative care for HIV/AIDS will help you maintain the best physical and mental health possible. TCM provides holistic care for patients living with HIV or AIDS that works on all levels: keeping your mental outlook positive, helping you sleep better, boosting immune function, and relieving symptoms that are due to side effects of medical treatment, or caused by concurrent infections.

How Do You Get HIV/AIDS?

needle syringe HIV
HIV can be passed through sharing needles or syringes.

The HIV virus is carried through certain bodily fluids: blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breastmilk. In order for HIV to be transmitted from one person to another, one of these types of body fluids must have the infection present in it, and must get into the other person’s bloodstream through broken skin or mucous membrane. 

HIV is not transmitted through saliva, sweat, urine, or feces, and is not carried in the air in droplets. You cannot get HIV through water or air, or by touching surfaces. The way that HIV is most often passed from person to person is through sexual contact. Other ways you can get HIV are by sharing needles while using drugs, getting a tattoo with a needle that wasn’t properly sanitized, or a blood transfusion. (As a reminder: we only use single-use, disposable, sterile needles for acupuncture treatment.) A woman could also pass HIV to her baby when breastfeeding.  Using condoms during sex and only using sterilized needles are the primary ways to prevent HIV infection. 

Top 10 Symptoms of HIV

Most people with HIV will go through a long phase of having no noticeable symptoms. Eventually, after the virus has spread slowly, people with HIV will begin to show symptoms such as:

  1. Fatigue, feeling tired all the time
  2. Fever, or feeling hot even if you don’t show a fever
  3. Diarrhea
  4. Insomnia, night sweats
  5. Weakness, dizziness
  6. Weight loss, wasting, loss of appetite
  7. Nausea
  8. Skin rash, or purple spots on skin, bruise easily
  9. Shortness of breath
  10. Swollen lymph glands
coated tongue
A coated tongue may be a sign of candida.

Oral candidiasis, also known as thrush or oral candida, is also common among people living with HIV because the suppressed immune system makes it easier for the fungal infection to take hold. Burning sensation or pain in the mouth cavity and redness with white patches are the signs of oral candidiasis. Long-term use of antifungal medication (Fluconazole) to control thrush can cause side effects and eventually  cease to be effective as the body develops a resistance to it.
HIV can also lead to neurological problems, like peripheral neuropathy, in which the signals between the brain and the rest of the body are compromised, causing symptoms like: muscle twitching, loss of balance and coordination, tingling or burning sensations, or numbness.

Medical Treatment for HIV and AIDS

Advances have been made in medical treatment for HIV/AIDS. Different combinations of medications that block the replication of the virus can help to slow the progression of HIV in the body. This type of drug therapy for HIV used to be called HAART, short for “highly active antiretroviral therapy.” Now, it is usually referred to as ART or cART, which stands for “combination antiretroviral therapy.” This form of treatment for HIV can increase chances of survival and quality of life, but is not well-tolerated by all patients. Lifelong use of the medication is required, which, for some, makes HIV a manageable chronic illness. For other patients, the side effects of cART may not be tolerable. Side effects of HIV medications can involve gastric problems, headaches, fatigue, and peripheral neuropathy. Medications can cause liver dysfunction, damage to the liver, and bone marrow suppression, meaning fewer blood cells are being made by the bone marrow.

While a person is still in the asymptomatic phase of HIV, doctors may not begin using antiretroviral therapy because of concerns related to side effects and resistance. However, taking some steps to optimize immune function can potentially help stave off progression into symptomatic and AIDS stages. TCM herbs and acupuncture can be helpful during this phase to help strengthen the immune system and hopefully slow down the progression of disease.

Acupuncture and herbal treatment with TCM may also be used as an adjunct therapy during later phases in order to help people tolerate cART better by reducing nausea and other gastrointestinal effects of the medication and helping to improve appetite. For patients with HIV, TCM treatment is designed to help strengthen the body’s immune defenses in the hopes of preventing advancement to the AIDS stage of disease. For patients in the AIDS stage, TCM treatment focuses on helping to alleviate symptoms of opportunistic infections and to mitigate the side effects of other medications.

TCM for HIV/AIDS 

Chinese herbs HIV/AIDS
Chinese herbs can help slow the progression of HIV.

What is HIV from the TCM perspective? TCM puts a lot of emphasis on the prevention of disease by maintaining a balance of yin and yang energies in order to protect the body’s Vital Qi. It is Vital Qi that keeps invasive illnesses like viruses from getting into the body and taking hold there. There are no TCM historical records that point specifically to AIDS, but we do have centuries of practice treating various kinds of invasive viral infections. Modern TCM practitioners apply this knowledge when treating patients with HIV/AIDS. 

Syndrome factors of HIV according to TCM:

  • Qi deficiency
  • Blood deficiency
  • Yin deficiency
  • Yang deficiency
  • Phlegm
  • Dampness
  • Qi stagnation
  • Essence deficiency

An invasion of heat causes the early symptoms of HIV infection: fever, itching (pruritis), and fatigue. Then, later on, as the virus moves deeper into the body, toxic heat causes problems with the organ systems of the stomach, spleen, kidneys, and liver that lead to the weight loss and poor appetite indicative of later stages of HIV and AIDS. Herbal formulations can help relieve the diarrhea that is often reported by patients with AIDS/HIV. Herbs that work to help strengthen the spleen can improve fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, diarrhea, and skin rash.

Strengthening deficient Qi is central to TCM treatment for HIV and can help to improve immune responses in the body. Chinese herbal formulations can aid in reducing the spread of the infection with results similar to those of cART medicines, while simultaneously having a positive effect on the immune system overall. Herbs do not come with the negative side effects associated with drug therapy for HIV/AIDS.

In addition to the other immune-related problems, people living with HIV/AIDS are also likely to have systemic inflammation. HIV can cause damage and inflammation in the gut, and cause blood clotting, making people more susceptible to cardiovascular problems and heart disease. Acupuncture has been shown to help reduce systemic inflammation in HIV patients. Some studies have suggested that herbs may help AIDS patients to live longer, and improve chances of long-term survival. Treatment of HIV with acupuncture and herbs can help to relieve symptoms and reduce the side effects of other treatments.

Acupuncture Near Me for HIV/AIDS in the Los Angeles Area

If you or someone you love is living with HIV, getting the best care possible as soon as possible is vital for improving the long-term outcome. Putting together a program of complementary health care for HIV/AIDS can help offer the best chances for survival, quality of life, and peace of mind.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

 

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How to Treat Hepatitis With Acupuncture and TCM

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Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

hepatitis infection HBV HCV
Fever, fatigue, and jaundice are signs of a Hepatitis infection.

Fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, dark urine–these are possible signs of Hepatitis infection, although many people infected with Hepatitis show no symptoms. For some people, a Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infection goes away on its own, but in other cases, it can cause serious liver damage, leading to chronic liver disease. Acupuncture and TCM treatment, including Chinese herbs, offer a way to help improve liver function and reduce symptoms of Hepatitis.

There are several variants of the Hepatitis virus that can cause inflammation of the liver, leading to scarring (liver cirrhosis or liver fibrosis), and in some cases leading to chronic liver problems or liver cancer. Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hep C (HCV) are the types of infection that can lead to long-term illness and even liver failure. It is estimated that over 300 million people worldwide are living with the effects of HBV or HCV infections.  

There is a vaccination that offers protection against Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A, but there is no vaccine for Hepatitis types C, D, and E. People who have contracted Hepatitis A or an acute form of HBV are usually told to rest and drink lots of fluids. Medical treatment for chronic Hepatitis that lasts for more than six months usually involves antiviral medications that help slow down the spread of the virus through the body. TCM treatment for Hepatitis with acupuncture and herbs works to improve the function of the liver and related organs (spleen, kidneys, gallbladder) and to strengthen the immune system so that the body can overcome the effects of the Hepatitis virus.

What Causes Hepatitis?

There are currently five different types of Hepatitis infection, referred to as: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B virus (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV or Hep C), Hepatitis D, and Hepatitis E. 

All of these viral infections affect the liver, causing inflammation and possibly scarring, known as cirrhosis of the liver or fibrosis of the liver. 

hand washing hepatitis
Hepatitis can spread through contaminated food and water, and unsanitary kitchen practices.

Hepatitis A and E viruses are carried in contaminated water or food supplies. People might contract the Hep A or Hep E virus through eating something like raw shellfish that was in contaminated water, or eating food prepared by a worker who did not wash their hands properly. These variants of Hepatitis may cause an acute infection, but do not lead to chronic conditions. 

HBV and HCV are spread through bodily fluids like blood and semen, and can therefore be spread through sexual contact, or the sharing of needles, or a woman may pass the infection to her baby during birth. Hepatitis is a common co-infection in people living with HIV/AIDS. These more serious forms of Hepatitis can lead to chronic illness, including cancer of the liver, or liver failure, making it one of the primary reasons people end up having a liver transplant.

Top 10 Symptoms of Hepatitis

Symptoms of a HBV or Hepatitis C infection often do not show up for a few weeks, a few months, or in some cases, years later. Some people, especially children, do not feel any symptoms of Hepatitis. The most common Hepatitis symptoms include: 

  1. Abdominal pain, pain in right side
  2. Swelling in liver area, swollen belly (ascites – fluid buildup in the liver)
  3. Jaundice, yellow eyes, yellow skin
  4. Dark urine, pee is dark
  5. Light colored stools, poop is clay-colored
  6. Fatigue
  7. Nausea
  8. Fever
  9. Loss of appetite
  10. Joint pain

Bleeding easily or bruising easily are also potentially signs of Hep C, as is a skin rash, or itchy skin (pruritus), little blisters, or itchy patches of skin like psoriasis. Some people have a sensation of their internal organs itching.

What Is the Treatment for Hepatitis?

If a person shows high levels of liver enzymes and still has the Hepatitis B virus in their body after six months or more, they will often be prescribed medications aimed to slow the spread of the virus and prevent further damage to the liver. There are several types of antiviral medications used to treat patients with long-term effects of Hepatitis, some of them are pills (adefovir, entecavir, lamivudine, telbivudine, tenofovir) that are taken daily for a year, or for several years. Some, known as Interferons, are given as an injection a few times a week over the course of several months or more. These medications can slow the virus in some patients, but for some people, they may not do much to protect the body from liver damage or stop the virus from spreading. These medications can cause serious side effects, including headaches, dizziness, fever, and severe depression. Acupuncture and TCM methods offer an alternative or adjunct support to help promote better liver function and boost the body’s defense against the Hepatitis virus.

What Acupuncture and TCM Can Do for Hepatitis

fatigue hepatitis
Fatigue and dizziness can be symptoms of Hepatitis.

Hepatitis infection is closely associated with the liver, as it is the liver that shows the most obvious damage as a result of infection, often resulting in cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. But according to TCM philosophy, the other internal organs work in concert with the liver, helping it to do the job of cleaning the blood and supplying it to the rest of the body. Patients with chronic Hepatitis B infection will demonstrate symptoms that help the acupuncture practitioner recognize a particular syndrome pattern, allowing them to use acupuncture points and Chinese herbs to work on deficiencies in the liver and other organs. In TCM theory, Hepatitis infection occurs due to pathogenic forces of toxic Heat and Dampness invading the body. The infection moves through different stages, and the TCM provider will tailor treatment with herbs, acupuncture, and moxibustion to the stage of infection and specific pattern of symptoms.

TCM differentiations of Hepatitis include:

  • Liver Qi stagnation – causes symptoms like nausea, poor appetite, distension of the belly or bloated stomach
  • Spleen and/or Kidney Yang deficiency – associated with poor appetite, loose stools, sallow complexion, weakness, loss of muscle
  • Liver – Gallbladder Dampness and Heat – causes jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), fever, nausea
  • Liver – Kidney Yin Deficiency – indicated by headaches, dizziness, irregular periods, stiff joints, poor sleep, irritability, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Blood stasis – accumulation of blood in the liver contributes to fibrosis or cirrhosis, also causes pain in the lower rib area, menstrual problems, PMS, and depression.

A person may be more susceptible to getting Hepatitis because of some underlying deficiencies in their Qi, and/or the virus may cause those deficiencies to manifest. The main goal of acupuncture treatment for HBV or HCV, therefore, is to strengthen the liver, spleen, and kidneys, to clear any dampness or excess heat from these organs, and to increase the circulation of blood through the systems.

Traditional Chinese herb formulations have been shown in clinical trials to help improve liver function in patients with chronic Hepatitis B.

Herbs that help improve spleen function are believed to help rid the body of the virus and allow for healing of the liver.
Diet and nutrition are, naturally, also very important in helping to strengthen and detoxify the liver and other organs. Your TCM practitioner will go far beyond the usual advice (drink fluids, avoid alcohol), and will give you specific advice for a hepatitis diet plan.

Liver 2 & 3 acupressure point
Liver 2 & 3 acupressure points are helpful any time you feel pain or heaviness in the liver area.

Acupuncture Near Me for Hepatitis in West LA

Chronic Hepatitis B and Hep C infections can be difficult to treat. Using acupuncture and herbs as an adjunct to conventional antiviral therapy for HBV may help to prevent further damage to the liver and improve organ function so that patients can recover from a chronic viral infection more fully. At Art of Wellness, we have over 30 years of experience providing integrative care for those suffering from chronic illnesses of all kinds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

 

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How to Treat PMS With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.

pms mood swings depression anxiety
PMS can cause mood swings, feelings of anxiety and depression.

Monthly mood swings, bloated stomach, headaches, and weight gain. Why is PMS so bad? Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a set of symptoms that occur in the days before a woman gets her period. PMS symptoms affect every woman differently, and can be serious enough to disrupt your life every month. TCM is an effective way to deal with PMS, because acupuncture treatment can help relieve both physical and emotional symptoms of PMS and severe PMS, also known as PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).

To say that PMS is common among women is an understatement. The vast majority of women experience some changes in both their mental health and their bodies the week before their period starts. Whether or not a woman feels that it has a negative impact on her daily life may change over time. For some women, PMS isn’t a big deal; for others, it’s a major problem that can affect their relationships, impact their work, and make life hell every month.

Most women find their own particular pattern of PMS is somewhat predictable–until it isn’t. One of the most frustrating aspects of menstrual problems is the sense that things change without warning, and symptoms can come on suddenly with ferocious intensity. It can be difficult to describe how you feel before your period, because the symptoms seem to come and go. Some women find that their PMS symptoms are different from month to month. In some cases, they might find that every other month is bad, while the alternating months aren’t so bad. Why is PMS worse some months?

Other than the basic understanding that PMS is caused by fluctuations in hormones and brain chemistry, conventional medical science does not offer much in the way of clear answers about what causes PMS.

TCM provides a different framework for looking at menstrual problems and has been used to treat women’s health issues of all kinds for many centuries. TCM treatments including acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion, and Chinese herbs can not only help relieve PMS symptoms, they can also be beneficial for other menstrual problems like irregular periods, PCOS, painful periods, endometriosis, heavy periods, fibroids, and symptoms of perimenopause.

Top 10 Symptoms of PMS

As a syndrome, PMS is considered a collection of symptoms that often appear together, in various combinations in different individuals. In the case of PMS, a woman may feel that her own symptoms change as often as every month, or gradually over the course of years. Girls in their teenage years may experience PMS in one way. Then, a woman in her early adult years may develop a different set of symptoms. After having a baby, a woman may find that her PMS symptoms have changed again. Then, many women in middle age experience changes in PMS symptoms as they go through perimenopause, approaching menopause. The most common signs of premenstrual syndrome include:

  1. Mood swings, low mood, feelings of sadness or anger
  2. Anxiety, feeling tense and irritable, cry easily or lose temper, want to be left alone
  3. Trouble sleeping, insomnia, disturbed sleep
  4. Breast tenderness, sore breasts, swollen breasts
  5. Food cravings, changes in appetite
  6. Weight gain, stomach bloating, water retention, pelvic pressure
  7. Gassiness, changes in digestion and elimination
  8. Acne, skin problems
  9. Changes in libido
  10. Headaches, migraines, difficulty concentrating, foggy head

Less obvious or well-known symptoms of PMS include: vision problems, tingling in the arms or legs, lack of coordination (clumsiness, dropping things), bruising easily, heart palpitations, dizziness, itchy skin, cold sores, toothaches, back pain, joint pain, and increased TMJ jaw pain.

Other health problems can be amplified during the premenstrual period, such as: chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, migraines, IBS, Meniere’s disease (dizziness, vertigo), clinical depression and anxiety disorders.

The physical and emotional aspects of PMS can affect each other, causing the typical mood swings. Feelings of sadness and frustration, or lack of sleep, may lead to comfort eating, but then the sight and sensation of your bloated stomach can cause you to feel depressed about your body. Minor problems with your spouse or co-workers can suddenly seem overwhelming and make you feel angry or helpless. 

For some women, PMS symptoms are so bad that they feel unable to function the week before their period. Severe PMS is now diagnosed as PMDD.

What Is PMDD?

severe PMS PMDD
PMDD causes severe emotional symptoms.

PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) is a severe form of PMS marked by intense emotional symptoms that dramatically impact a woman’s life, in addition to physical symptoms. “Dysphoria” is the opposite of “euphoria;” in other words, it is a mental state characterized by profound unhappiness and negative feelings. It is estimated that about 5% of all women experience this extreme type of PMS. Signs of PMDD include:

  1. Severe anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia
  2. Severe depression, in some cases even suicidal thoughts, lack of self-worth
  3. Anger and irritability that provokes rage and causes conflicts with other people
  4. Fatigue, low energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of confusion
  5. Intense food cravings, possibly leading to binge eating

Again, there is currently no scientific answer for what causes PMDD, although it is generally believed to be related to the way estrogen levels and progesterone levels change between ovulation and the onset of the menstrual period. Mood is considered to be related to serotonin levels in the brain, and this is why PMDD is usually treated with birth control pills, which suppress ovulation, and/or antidepressants (SSRIs), which affect serotonin uptake.

Medical Treatment for PMS

birth control pills
Doctors often prescribe birth control pills to get rid of PMS symptoms.

Naturally, when a woman asks for advice about PMS or PMDD, she is going to hear suggestions like: “try meditating, exercise more, eat a healthy diet, and get more sleep.” And it is true that making good lifestyle choices is an important part of helping to reduce PMS symptoms. But women who are suffering with serious PMS need solutions beyond these kinds of lifestyle guidelines. 

When women complain of PMS symptoms, doctors will most often recommend OTC pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (NSAIDs) to relieve pain. Diuretics may be used to relieve bloating or premenstrual weight gain. Of course, most commonly, women are prescribed oral birth control pills, which suppress ovulation, and therefore may reduce the severity of PMS symptoms. More and more frequently, women may be prescribed antidepressants to try to deal with emotional symptoms and mood swings, or anxiety medications to take as needed during PMS. In effect, doctors often treat PMS the same way they would depression or anxiety. 

Clearly, birth control pills are not helpful for women who may want to get pregnant, and some women may be concerned about how taking the pill or antidepressants may affect their fertility in the future. None of these pharmacological solutions for PMS address the root cause of the symptoms, and all of these medications carry side effects that may impact a woman’s overall health. Health care for women with TCM seeks to address the deeper internal causes of hormonal imbalances and other problems with the organ systems that are impacting the health of the ovaries and the regularity of the menstrual cycle.

Can Acupuncture Help PMS?

yin yang PMS
When Yin and Yang are balanced, the menstrual cycle can flow smoothly.

While it is only in recent years that conventional medicine has begun to acknowledge connections between physical health and emotional health, TCM has understood for many hundreds of years that health conditions of all kinds, especially those related to the menstrual cycle, are rooted in the balance of energies. Menstruation represents an ongoing process of transformation that occurs not only within the reproductive organs, but which affects every part of a woman, and even the people around her.

The concept of Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy describes two opposing yet complementary forces that are constantly acting upon each other in order to achieve balance. The menstrual cycle is very much based on Yin and Yang energies; during the follicular phase of the cycle (before ovulation), Yin is increasing while Yang is decreasing, and in the luteal phase (after ovulation, before the period), Yang is increasing while Yin is decreasing. The system is designed, naturally, to create the right conditions for conception; this process of Yin and Yang exchange is what determines a woman’s fertility.

While the health of the uterus and ovaries is definitely central to the process, within the TCM philosophy, they are not the only organs involved with menstruation. The Kidneys, Liver, and Heart all have important roles to play, as well. In TCM, we also view the elements of Fire–to provide warmth, controlled by the Heart–and Water, controlled by the Kidneys–to provide moisture, as being vital to all processes within the body, especially to menstruation. Blood is cleansed, stored, and then distributed to the other organs by the Liver. Blood being central to the process of menstruation, the Liver’s role is really key in how the whole thing plays out. 

According to TCM theory, most PMS and PMDD symptoms are caused by problems with Liver Qi. When the Liver Qi is out of balance, it can lead to feelings of anger, frustration, depression, and irritability. The Liver system is particularly susceptible to negative effects of stress.

There are a few different variations of Liver Qi imbalance and other patterns that can contribute to PMS symptoms:

  • Liver Qi invasion – This is a condition of excess, in which there is too much rising Liver Qi, characterized by overall negative emotions that are disruptive, including anger and anxiety, breast tenderness, headaches, dizziness, and constipation.
  • Liver Qi depression – In this case, there is not enough Liver Qi, causing feelings of sadness, heaviness in chest, painful swelling of breasts, sighing, bloated stomach, lack of appetite, cramping during period, scanty blood during period.
  • Spleen Kidney deficiency – In this case, stagnant energy in the Kidney system is preventing water from moving appropriately, causing water retention or edema.

From the scientific medical standpoint, acupuncture treatment has been shown to have a positive effect on neurotransmitters like serotonin, and to impact levels of estrogen and progesterone. This happens naturally because we are using TCM methods to restore optimal function of all the organs. With Chinese herbs we are able to get specific nutrients into the body that we cannot get from the foods we normally eat.

Acupuncture treatment accompanied with specific herbs for PMS patterns can help balance the liver Qi, and bring all of the organs into synergistic harmony.

In order to make lasting change, it is best to have acupuncture treatment at least once or twice a week. We need to deal with each phase of the menstrual cycle as it occurs by tailoring the acupuncture treatment and herbs to your PMS and period symptoms. 

A systematic review of ten controlled trials using acupuncture to treat PMS concluded that TCM treatment of PMS significantly improved symptoms.

Top 3 Tips for PMS Relief From TCM Perspective

yoga tai qi pms period gentle exercise
Gentle exercise to get Qi moving can help with PMS symptoms.

There are still a lot of taboos surrounding women’s health, and many girls and women have never learned how to take care of their reproductive health. Working with an experienced TCM doctor will enable you to get personalized care and advice about how to eat the best diet for PMS symptoms, what activities to avoid before your period, and other female hygiene tips that you may not have heard before. 

  1. Nutrition – conventional Western thinking about healthy eating currently focuses on eating fresh, whole foods, which is good, except that people tend to think this means eating a lot of foods raw or cold, as in salads and smoothies. According to the TCM philosophy of nutrition, though, eating cold foods is actually one of the worst things you can do when it comes to relieving PMS and painful periods. Putting a lot of cold food into the stomach cools down the temperature of the other internal organs, which can contribute to more cramping and worse cramps. During the week before your period, concentrate on eating plenty of nourishing, cooked foods like soups and stews, proteins and vegetables, and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. Avoid too much dairy, sugar, caffeine, hot, spicy or fried foods (that includes chips and crackers), and definitely avoid icy cold beverages and frozen treats.
  2. Keep track of your period – there are many apps available now to help with this, but it can also be a simple chart with room for notes about your symptoms. Keeping track of your PMS symptoms every month can help you recognize patterns in your own behaviors and experiences. A record of PMS symptoms will also help you communicate what you’re feeling to your health care providers when you are seeking treatment for PMS or PMDD.
  3. Exercise – gentle movement modalities that move Qi through the body are great to help PMS: Tai Qi, yoga, or dancing are all good. Avoid deep twists that could squeeze or put pressure on the ovaries and other organs. Again, keep track of your exercise routines and how they affect your physical and emotional wellbeing from month to month so that you can see which type of workout is best for you, or if some types of exercise make PMS worse.

Acupuncture Near Me for PMS in Los Angeles, CA

Many women come to us at Art of Wellness seeking help with menstrual problems or fertility issues. We have over 30 years of experience in helping to relieve symptoms of PMS and all types of period pain and dysfunction. It is possible for the menstrual cycle to flow without extreme feelings or strong physical discomfort. If you feel like PMS or PMDD is negatively impacting your life every month, please do not hesitate to give us a call. 

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

 

 

 

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How to Treat UTI With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

pee all the time, UTI, urinary incontinence
UTIs cause frequent urination

Why do I feel like I have to pee all the time? A urinary tract infection, usually referred to as UTI, is a bacterial infection that affects the bladder and/or other parts of the urinary system, causing urinary urgency, often accompanied by a burning pain when you go to the bathroom. Acupuncture and TCM is a good way to get to the root causes of frequent urination, including recurrent UTIs.

Urinary frequency, or an unusual urgency to urinate, can be caused by several different health conditions. A common cause of bladder pain, pressure on the bladder, or a burning sensation when peeing is a bacterial infection in the urinary tract, or UTI. But there can be many other reasons for constantly feeling like you have to pee, including diabetes, interstitial cystitis (IC), pregnancy, prostate problems, ovarian cysts, and more.

Over half of all adult women have experienced a UTI (also called cystitis) at some point in their lives. Many women get UTIs frequently, making them the most common type of non-hospital-related infection in the U.S. Up to 6% of all doctor visits are related to UTIs. A UTI can occur when bacteria, usually E. coli, gets into the urethra and travels up into the bladder, or further into the urinary tract. This can happen because of hygiene habits, after sex or exercising, or the use of contraceptives or period products. It can also happen when urine sits in the bladder for too long, or because a person has a weakened immune system.

While UTI treatment at home remedies such as drinking cranberry juice are popular, most women recognize that once they get that constant urge to pee, they have no choice but to rush to the doctor for antibiotics. Typical UTI medical treatment almost always involves confirming the infection by lab analysis, and a prescribed course of antibiotics, along with analgesic medicine (such as Pyridium) to help the UTI pain in bladder. Unfortunately, many women keep getting UTIs. Infections that are antibiotic resistant are increasingly common, and antibiotics do not get to the root of the problem.

Interstitial cystitis (IC), or painful bladder syndrome, is a condition that causes a constant sensation of having to pee, or bladder pressure, even when there is no infection present. Recurrent UTI and IC are a significant source of anxiety and depression for women, as they can cause almost constant pain and an inability to leave the house due to the constant urge to urinate.

UTI in men is not as common as UTI in women. The more common cause of frequent urination in men is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), in which an enlarged prostate presses on the urinary organs, blocking the flow of urine, and causing backup that can lead to bacterial urinary tract infection men.

Sometimes what feels like a UTI might be something else. Growths in the pelvic area, such as ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, or tumors can cause pressure in the bladder, bladder pain, or urinary frequency at night. Even when there is no infection, there may urinary symptoms such as: 

  1. Strong urge to pee frequently (more than 8 times per day)
  2. Difficulty urinating
  3. Urine is different color than usual
  4. Pain during peeing, or burning sensation when peeing
  5. Nocturia, frequent urination at night

The conventional medicine answer to UTI is antibiotic treatment, but this is not the only answer for everyone. TCM methods of acupuncture and herbs can help with improving the function of bladder and kidney systems, reducing symptoms from recurrent UTIs, as well as helping to address the deeper problems that cause inflammation and pressure in the bladder.

Top 10 Urinary Frequency Causes

There are many possible causes of frequent urination

  1. UTI (urinary tract infection, also called cystitis, or bladder infection)
  2. Kidney infection – when bacteria move further up into the urinary tract, the kidneys can become infected. Sometimes people with nerve damage in the spine cannot feel UTI symptoms (neurogenic bladder), so the infection becomes more widespread.
  3. Bladder stones – when the bladder does not empty completely, urine can crystallize and form hard stones, causing pain during urination.
  4. Interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome) – a syndrome of urinary pain symptoms, the exact cause of which is unknown. Inflammation of the bladder lining may be due to trauma (from surgery or delivery/birth), overdistension, or dysfunction of the pelvic floor muscles.
  5. Prostatitis – inflammation of the prostate accompanied by irritation of the nerves in the area; not necessarily an infection, although a bacterial infection of the prostate can occur.
  6. Urinary incontinence – leakage of urine, occurs when the urethral sphincter that controls the flow and stoppage of urine is weak. More common in women and older people. 
  7. Vaginitis – inflammation of the vagina, usually due to infection. Candida, or yeast infection, is one type of vaginitis.
  8. Diabetes – can cause a variety of urinary problems, due to the body producing more urine to process blood sugar, and nerve damage that leads to urinary retention and incontinence. Constant thirst is also a sign of diabetic urinary symptoms.
  9. Side effects of cancer treatment in pelvic area – cancer treatments that affect the pelvis, including radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and surgeries to remove pelvic organs, can all cause irritation or damage to the bladder.
  10. Overactive bladder (OAB) – a group of symptoms, including frequent urination, leakage, nocturia (getting up to pee at night), and primarily, a strong urge to urinate often. Considered to be caused by inappropriate signalling of the nerves that communicate between the brain and the urinary tract organs.
pregnancy urinary frequency
Pregnancy can put pressure on the bladder, causing urinary frequency.

Causes of frequent urination vary somewhat according to biological sex. Frequent urination in men is often caused by prostate problems, while frequent urination in women may be due to pregnancy or other womens’ health conditions related to the ovaries or uterus.

Pressure on the bladder because of pregnancy, or from other organs, can also cause urinary frequency and discomfort. This can happen due to an anterior prolapse, when the pelvic floor is weakened, and the uterus, intestine, or bladder drop from their normal position. When a woman is pregnant, the heavy uterus often causes more frequent urination, or, in some cases, urinary retention. Damage or trauma to the pelvic floor can occur during delivery, so many women experience weak pelvic floor muscles, prolapsed uterus or bladder, and ongoing urinary urgency after they have had a baby.

In men, an enlarged prostate or prostatitis (infection and inflammation of the prostate) can put pressure on the bladder and other parts of the urinary system.

A frequent need to pee can also be caused by drinking too much coffee or alcohol, or taking diuretics.

Can Acupuncture Help Frequent Urination?

In Chinese Medicine, urinary problems come under the classification of “Lin Syndromes.” Lin disorders generally involve painful, “dribbling” urination and are caused by disharmonies in the Bladder and Kidneys, as well as involving other major organs like the Heart, Liver, and Spleen. Dampness and Heat are the primary pathogenic factors, so we use acupuncture treatment and herbal formulations to clear heat and dampness from the body.

Top 5 TCM differentiations of UTI:

  1. Damp Heat – characterized by frequent urination, burning sensation when peeing, painful pressure in bladder, dark urine or cloudy urine that smells unusual, feelings of nausea, bitter taste in mouth
  2. Heart Fire – frequency and urgency, thirst, hot, red face and chest, trouble sleeping/insomnia, irritability, anxiety, heart palpitations
  3. Liver Fire – excess heat causes painful burning during urination, headaches, ringing in ears/tinnitus, constipation, feelings of anger and frustration, redness in eyes and face.
  4. Fatigue Lin – covers urinary disorders that involve incomplete emptying of the bladder, due to prostate enlargement or prolapsed pelvic organs.
  5. Stone Lin – obstructions of the urinary system due to buildup of minerals that create stones in the bladder, kidney stones, etc.

Patients who have problems with recurring UTIs may be resistant to the antibiotics they’ve been given.  TCM herbs can be used as an additional or alternative remedy from antibiotics and help to strengthen the immune system overall. One review of studies involving the use of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) for UTIs concluded that the herbs, whether used alone or in conjunction with antibiotics, worked better than antibiotics alone.

One study showed that women who were prone to getting UTIs who were treated with acupuncture as preventative care only got a UTI one-third as often as women who didn’t receive acupuncture. Acupuncture has also been shown to be highly effective for bladder pain due to interstitial cystitis. Studies have also shown that TCM treatment can relieve the blockage of urine caused by an enlarged prostate (BPH).

Top 5 Tips for Preventing UTI

drink water to prevent UTI
Drink more water to prevent UTIs.

What a relief! Now that you’ve gotten over that urinary tract infection, it’s important to take steps to prevent getting another UTI. Here are some natural ways to prevent UTIs:

  1. Drink more water – This may seem counterintuitive, as you don’t want to have to pee even more. But you do want to be constantly flushing bacteria out of the urinary tract. Avoid drinks like coffee and soda, which can be irritating to the bladder.
  2. Go when you feel you need to – Some therapies for overactive bladder or IC involve training yourself to hold urine, but for most people, this is not a good idea. Retaining urine for too long contributes to bacterial growth and causes overdistension of the bladder.
  3. Hygiene – be sure to wipe from front to back when you go to the bathroom. Change clothes and underwear often, especially after sweating. During your menstrual period, change your pad and tampon frequently. 
  4. After sex – always go to the bathroom and urinate before falling asleep. 
  5. Avoid chemical products – Avoid using deodorants, douches, or scented wipes around the genital area. Consider whether contraceptive products like spermicides might also be part of the problem.

Acupuncture Near Me for UTI

While it is rare for a UTI to become so serious that you have a fever or become nauseated, urinary problems should be taken seriously before they become worse. If your UTIs keep coming back, or you constantly feel like you have to pee, it may be a sign that there is something deeper going on. As people age, urge incontinence, prolapsed organs due to weak pelvic floor muscles, and nerve damage can lead to more serious bladder problems. TCM provides a holistic way to treat urinary tract issues, as well as other, possibly hidden conditions in the pelvic region. Urinary urgency may be a signal of something else, so don’t ignore it. Consult with your acupuncturist to find urinary frequency relief.

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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