World Health Day 2015

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

World health day was April 7th, and to celebrate I want to share a little bit about how health is defined in Chinese medicine. For the uninitiated, Chinese medicine is a system that is more than 5000 years old. It is an umbrella term that encompasses modalities such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, moxibustion, gua sha, cupping, auricular acupuncture, tui na and dietary therapy. One of the things that makes Chinese medicine so effective and still able to treat modern diseases, is its holistic approach. It is not a system of medicine, it teaches a way of life.

For this world health day, I have teamed up with the American Recall Center, a new site that is working to improve patient safety and providing up to date FDA information. We both are working to celebrate good health and focus on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Lifestyle : Chinese Medicine Living

The Holistic Approach

Chinese medicine is a holistic system. It takes many factors into account when evaluating the health of a person. Because of this, the intake process is very detailed, as it is important to get as much information as possible, about every aspect of a person's life, to determine why they are not well, and to figure out what needs to be done to correct the problem. All aspects are considered equally important to health including the emotions, diet, exercise, mental state, spirit and the workings of the body. The practitioner of Chinese medicine will go through all these aspects and determine the root cause of the imbalance so that it can be corrected and health restored.

Acupuncture : Chinese Medicine Living

Another aspect of Chinese medicine is that health is considered a state of balance between all parts of the body and life. Inside the body, we think of Yin and Yang, the water and fire energies respectively. When there is too much Yang, there are symptoms like headaches, red eyes, palpitations, dryness and outbursts of anger. A preponderance of Yin would manifest as symptoms of cold, lethargy, contracting pain, low energy, listlessness and water retention. In life, if the emotions are expressed freely, the diet is balanced and we are spending as much time moving as we are sitting still, then we are seen to be in good health. It is only when the balance is disturbed that symptoms develop, and this is a sign that something needs to be adjusted. The severity of the illness is directly proportionate to the severity of the imbalance.

The practitioner of Chinese medicine does not only administer acupuncture and herbs to their patients, they are there to educate their patients in a way of life; how to stay balanced so that illness never has a chance to develop. It is a preventative medicine. Of course, imbalances happen, but armed with the right information, and being aware of the subtle changes in our bodies, we all have the capacity to remain healthy well into old age, a time when many people are resigned to illness.

Traditional Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

Western Medicine

Western medicine has made many advancements that have contributed to the overall health of people all over the world. Diagnostic tests, western drugs and surgeries have saved countless lives and continue to do so. I have always believed that if Chinese and western medicine could work together, their combined abilities to heal would be without limit. I think about medicine as a tool box, and Chinese medicine has various tools with which to bring a person back to health - acupuncture, herbs, moxibustion, dietary therapy, etc... these are the tools of Chinese medicine. Western medicine also has myriad tools  which it uses to heal a person. There is nothing lost by adding tools to your tool kit, they are simply different perspectives, different approaches and all are useful when trying to heal from disease. Some work better for certain things, but having as many options as possible is not only pragmatic, it gives you a better chance to recover from what ails you.

Many people are aware of only one option when they get sick. But I am finding that more and more people are turning to alternatives and being open to their possibilities to heal. It is heartening to see that many people are beginning to accept that there are many types of healing, and that all can be helpful.

Here is an example. I have a patient who was diagnosed with cancer about a year and a half ago. He was given between 3-6 months to live. His cancer was particularly aggressive and dangerous. He is doing chemotherapy, but is also having regular acupuncture treatments and is taking Chinese herbs. His tumor markers are consistently going down and his oncologist is pleased at his progress and recovery. The acupuncture and Chinese herbs are working to build his immune system and building his strength so that his body can sustain the chemotherapy. Each of these treatments in isolation would have been beneficial, but together they are compounded and the benefits are amplified. I look forward to watching him make a full recovery and see him live a long and healthy life.

In conclusion, when I decided to study medicine, I chose Chinese medicine because it resonated with me, but I have always been open to all types of healing. I deal with patients every day who are taking western medications, having surgeries and who are struggling with diseases. I believe that working together with western doctors, we can help many patients to heal using the combined strengths of each system. I wish you a happy World Health Day, and much health to you now and in the future as well.

Health : Chinese Medicine Living


Why Acupuncture Works for Seniors

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

For more than two years I worked at a pain clinic that happened to be attached to a long term care facility inhabited by elderly patients. Many of them were my patients, and although their treatments at the clinic were multidisciplinary (seeing many types of doctors and receiving different types of treatments depending on their issues), I found that acupuncture really worked wonders on the eldery patients from next door.

Older patients present some unique problems. Firstly, many of them are on a myriad of medications for a wide variety of conditions. I found that I really had to sit down with them and take the time in the initial consultation to document what medications they were on and then research and make sure that none of them could be reacting with each other and causing any of the problems they were coming to see me for. I was really amazed at how many medications my elderly patients were taking. Many of them weren't sure what they were for, and others had been on them for so long that they had forgotten why they had been given.

In Chinese medical theory, as a person ages, their vital energy, life force or "Jing" is seen to be in a gradual decline. This is healthy and a natural part of aging. However, we are only born with a finite amount, and the way we live our lives determines how it is used, wheather it is wisely, or not. This is illustrated by a person who has lived hard, done a lot of partying, drinking, drugs... they usually have a worn out appearance and often look older than they actually are. They have been depleting their Jing, and it is aging them prematurely.

The other thing that I noticed about the seniors that I treated, was what a huge difference taking some time to sit and speak with them made. Making a connection and showing that I was really listening to them made a huge difference in their treatment and ultimately, their prognosis. This may seem obvious, that a little kindness goes a long way, but often in the medical profession, and in particular with seniors, doctors don't have (or take) the time to really listen. Of course, they are the experts on disease and illness, but who knows their body better than the patient? Allowing a patient to relay to you their experience of what is happening, what is out of balance or causing them pain is an important aspect of the treatment and subsequent healing process.

Another thing that I noticed is that my senior patients were rarely touched. Touch is such an important part of our lives. Important physiologically for things like the nervous system, and emotionally for a feeling of connectedness, affection and purpose. I found that sometimes they would hold my hand while telling me how they were doing just to feel a connection to another person. So, I always tried to incorporate some massage into the treatment which they always loved. Because stagnation occurs often in the elderly, massage (and acupuncture of course) are very moving and stimulating to the body helping to move stagnation and keep things flowing freely.

Why Acupuncture is So Good for Seniors

Because of all these factors acupuncture works very well for seniors. You don't have to worry about drug interactions (which are especially dangerous in the elderly), and it can be applied in as gentle a fashion as needed depending on the patients requirements.

Because many seniors exhibit long standing deficiencies, they are not as sensitive and by the time a symptom is felt, it is often very serious (children are the opposite), and acupuncture is a powerful tool and able to be used on sensitive or very deficient patients. It's many modalities are also useful like dietary therapy (I found many seniors were not eating a balanced diet), emotional wellness (which I was attending to by speaking with them and allowing them to express what they were feeling), and the importance of exercise. Many did not get out or even do much moving around. As part of their treatment I always advised walking, even if it was around the halls, but going outside and getting some fresh air and being out in nature is always preferable. This is good for moving energy, getting the blood flowing and improving mood.

We had a physiotherapist in the clinic and we set up a program for her to go next door 3 times a week to do an exercise class with the seniors. It was so popular the class was always packed and the staff noticed a marked improvement in the overall health and mood of the residents.

Another common problem is depression. Often senior citizens are living in facilities like this because they are unwell, unable to take care of themselves, and have lost a spouse. These all take a toll on our psyche, so depression is common. Any of these on its own is a huge adjustment, but they often come together so it isn't hard to imagine that many people become depressed when these major life changes occur. Some withdraw and shut down, some become angry and frustrated at their situation, and some become sad and depressed. I found that the more connected to the world and other people, the better they did. If they had visitors, saw their friends and children, or went on outings, they were happier and more balanced and overall, healthier.

Thankfully, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have many ways to deal with depression. Like everything in TCM there are many types of, and reasons for depression to take up residence, but a thorough intake and accurate diagnosis can help the patient on their way to recovery. I saw many patients improve dramatically, and seeing their healing was perhaps the most rewarding of my career. My senior patients were some of the most interesting (the stories! They have seen so much of history!), most kind hearted and appreciative patients I have treated.

We live in a society that does not value its older citizens the way most cultures do. In many cultures around the world the oldest members of the family, village, or town are the most revered as they have something the younger people do not... wisdom. And wisdom is something that can only be gained by living, so the oldest among us are the wise. In our culture in the West we do not have the same reverence for our elderly, and they are often put into homes, abandoned and forgotten when they have so much to offer and to teach us. I learn so much from all my patients, but I think I have learned the most from my senior patients who have lived longer, seen more and experienced life to an extent that I have not, at least not yet... ;)