The Risks of Self-Medicating

A few months ago, I received samples of an herbal supplement called kratom in the mail. Apparently, the company was hoping I would carry their product in my office and sell it to patients for pain-related conditions. I had never heard of this herbal remedy and I contacted the company and requested literature and research about it on two separate occasions. They never sent me anything, so when I did my homework, I learned that kratom interacts with the brain’s opioid receptors, is not approved by the FDA, and is quite controversial because of its potentially addictive qualities and other side effects (including nausea, itching, constipation, seizures, hallucinations and so on). Without even passing judgment on the herb itself, the fact that this company targets practitioners like me and expects us to dispense it without any background information is absurd, irresponsible, and completely unethical. It violates the established methodology of clinical trials and centuries of empirical research through which all accepted supplements and medications are investigated and approved. This reckless marketing approach made me think about how alluring the promise of a cure can be to suffering patients or gullible practitioners who desperately want to find a solution. (more…)

Spring Detoxification??

Many people look towards the spring with a sense of hope. After wintertime, as the earth comes alive again, we often attempt to re-evaluate and renew our lives as well. It can be a good period for “spring cleaning,” making dietary changes, starting an exercise regimen, setting goals, and planning ahead for the rest of the year. It is no coincidence that in Chinese medicine, the liver, an organ known for removing toxins from the body, is specifically connected with this season of revival. So-called detoxification diets and associated products have become very trendy of late, and are especially popular in springtime. Many claim to be able to thoroughly rid the body of waste and restore health. As I have written before and as I explain to my patients, there is no real evidence that any such radical cleanse does that. Furthermore, the body is constantly detoxifying itself in many ways. It is an ongoing process. But I personally feel that a ritual “periodic cleanse” is a nice way to jumpstart healthier habits and to help motivate you to take better care of your body. (By cleanse, I don’t mean fasting or consuming only juice for a month! I mean eating a clean diet: as much organic as possible, with no processed foods or sugar, caffeine, dairy, alcohol and so forth for a set period of time. Certain supplements for liver support and colon health might also be a nice addition during such a phase. Again, this is not a magical cure, it is more of an assist, and one that might help you to rethink and change your daily habits.) (more…)

Recent Research Shows Scary Statistic on Mortality Rates

I feel the need to share and comment on an article I read a couple of weeks ago about a startling statistic. The New York Times published a piece (see link below) that discussed the disturbing results of research conducted by two economists (Angus Deaton and Anne Case) on mortality rates. They discovered that the death rates of middle-aged Caucasian Americans (aged 45-54), specifically those without college educations, had significantly increased from 1999 to 2014. Evidently, the cause of this higher incidence of death was largely due to suicide and to complications from alcoholism or drug addiction. This brings up a number of complex issues, most obviously the socioeconomic reasons why people in this demographic have been feeling hopeless and turning to suicide or using substances to handle their troubles. People are speculating about things like recent economic downturn, unemployment, age discrimination and poor health as sources of distress for these folks. However, the data also show that many of these deceased had suffered from chronic pain. The next question then becomes why are less educated white people experiencing so much chronic pain? (White patients are apparently prescribed painkillers much more frequently by doctors than African-American patients, which is yet another conundrum, although this actually helps prevent more addiction/dependency on prescription drugs in the African-American population.) Do whites in this demographic have less access to healthcare than educated whites and other groups? Is this category of people unaware of all the options available for the treatment of chronic pain? The mortality rate for middle-aged Hispanics is much lower, and while for African Americans it is overall higher, their rate has decreased significantly in recent years, the study shows. So, these new statistics on mortality rates are quite a surprise. (more…)

Marijuana and TCM

Many patients have asked my opinion about recreational and medicinal marijuana use. For many reasons, I am glad that laws have changed, in part because I believe in quality control. I also think it is a great help to people with chronic pain or nausea, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy (obviously pregnant women should never use it, even for severe morning sickness). However, in accordance with the fundamental tenets of Chinese medicine, I emphasize moderation in all things. Marijuana use and abuse is of concern to me- many people believe that because they keep a healthy diet and don’t drink alcohol, they are living “healthy lifestyles” despite smoking pot daily! This couldn’t be farther from the truth. (more…)

Weight Loss and Acupuncture

Many people ask me if acupuncture can help them lost weight. Most seem to be looking for a fast fix. I tell them it is not a magical cure for obesity or overeating, but it can facilitate the weight loss process. Obesity is an epidemic in this country, and it has grave consequences, not only because it vastly increases the risk for disease and joint strain, but it also raises the cost of healthcare. There is a difference between being overweight and being obese. Both refer to a state where a person weighs more than is considered healthy for his or her height. This is determined by the Body Mass Index (or BMI), which is a calculation based on height and weight, and is not a direct measurement of body fat. While it is not a perfect estimation, it is used as a reference and a predictor of obesity-related diseases. (Direct body fat measurements may be taken with ultrasound, calipers measuring skin fold thickness, MRI, and so on.) If a person’s BMI is 25.0 to 29.9, then they are considered overweight. If a person’s BMI is 30 or above, then he or she is categorized as obese. Over one third of adults and 17% of children in the United States are obese! According to the Center for Disease Control (
• Overweight and obesity result from an energy imbalance. This involves eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity.
• Body weight is the result of genes, metabolism, behavior, environment, culture, and socioeconomic status.
• Behavior and environment play a large role causing people to be overweight and obese. These are the greatest areas for prevention and treatment actions.
Overweight and obesity greatly increase the risk of many diseases, as research has showed: cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke), certain cancers, diabetes, osteoarthritis, fertility and menstrual disorders, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea among others. My personal feeling is that our culture is one of excess and portion sizes are too large. We also consume foods of poor quality, i.e, processed foods that contain chemicals and enormous amounts of sugar and salt, as well as foods that have antibiotics and hormones in them. Our modern lives are sedentary for the most part, and sitting at a desk all day is not exactly a natural way of life for our physiques. It doesn’t provide any physical release for stress or metabolic stimulation. Adrenal fatigue and stress which raise cortisol levels are other reasons why people retain fat. Certain medications and illnesses (such as hypothyroidism) may cause people to gain weight as well, so the culprit isn’t always lifestyle or behavior. There are many, many reasons why people struggle with their weight. (more…)

Acupuncture and Smoking Cessation

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health. It has been banned in public places in New York for years, and some people even think it should be outlawed. Why? Because smoking is associated with very serious and avoidable health problems. The Surgeon General warning on a packet of cigarettes states: “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Emphysema, Heart Disease and May Complicate Pregnancy.” This is but a brief summary of the scary side effects; smoking can also lead to chronic bronchitis and other respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease including stroke, and it can increase infertility, autoimmune diseases, other cancers and mortality. Here are two shocking statistics on smoking from the CDC website: (more…)