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Q:  I'm considering acupuncture to compliment a round of IVF. I've never had acupuncture before. Do you have any advice when trying to choose where to go for this therapy? I'm due to start IVF injections in 2-3 weeks - have I left it too late to start acupuncture?

A:  It's never too late to start acupuncture treatment.  There are a number of ways in which acupuncture treatment can help a woman. Our fact sheet on fertility http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/female-fertility.html provides some fairly dry information about studies which show interesting results, but away from the more academic end of things there has been a very rapid growth in postgraduate training in acupuncture for obstetrics and fertility over the last decade. Two or three organisations have developed, all of which are set up by BAcC members and mostly with BAcC members on their 'books', whose members have all undertaken additional training in the way in which acupuncture can support someone in cycles of fertility treatment. This can extend from traditional acupuncture as it is undertaken anyway, treating the person rather than the condition, to syndrome acupuncture which finds energetic reasons why the course may not take and does its best to
maximise the chances through to measures like the Paulus Protocol which is a formula treatment applied at the time of the implantation which has had clinically  demonstrable successes.

We are confident that all of these approaches can help, which means that we would also be confident that any of our members should be able to provide you with help. However, if someone focuses their work on women undergoing IVF treatment the chances are that they will be more experienced in the western medical aspects of what is happening and have through training the wealth of accumulated wisdom of the teachers who have trained them.

We are not able to name the organisations - we are committed to maintaining a level playing field for all members until such time as we have agreed the appropriate standards for postgraduate claims for expertise - but typing acupuncture, fertility and your area into google will almost certainly guarantee a hit on someone who website will mention the organisations concerned.

The only reservation that we have is that we have seen some members becoming a part of clinics which specialise in this field but which also control the fee structure and often appear to charge considerably more for this kind of treatment than for 'normal' acupuncture treatment. In this expert's view, acupuncture is acupuncture, and the only reasons for charging up are for meeting the cost of overheads on expensive premises or for years of clinical expertise. There are no chargeable magic formulae for reatment that the average competent practitioner is not already aware of anyway. But that's a personal view!

We hope that you manage to find someone suitable before you start your course of injections, and are confident that you will.

A:  It is tempting to trot out the usual information about how successful acupuncture is at treating back pain to the extent that it is one of the treatments recommended in the NICE guidelines. However, your brief e-mail hints at a very complex history, and any good practitioner would want to know a great deal more detail about the operations you have had, and also the injections, before offering a balanced view of what might be possible.

The usual operations in this sort of area, like laminectomies and fusions, always have an effect on the flow of energies in an area, and sometimes from a Chinese medicine perspective create long term blockages which are very difficult to correct. In these circumstances there is often something to be done to reduce the long term pains from which people suffer, and make them more manageable, but getting rid of the pain altogether may be a much longer shot.

That said, we have all seen patients with very long histories of back pain and often with a history of operations and all sorts of invasive treatment who have experienced great improvements. It is, though, impossible to predict which ones will benefit best, and that is why the good practitioner will be cautious and recommend that no more than four or five sessions are worth trying to see if the treatment has an effect. After that there is a second issue: the treatment may have an effect but how much and how
sustainable. This can often become a matter of cost; if a treatment gives a week's relief then unfortunately it is a matter of deciding whether the cost of achieving this much change is warranted by the opportunities it offers. If someone can remain in full time employment as a consequence the trade off is obvious. If, however, they are on a pension or reduced income, it may become more of an issue.

Treating to maintain an even keel with some pain is a legitimate way of operating. It is sometimes sensible to recognise the limits of what is possible and work within them rather than chase rainbows in the hope that a therapy will suddenly transform a long standing condition where everything else has failed.

The best advice we can give, and which we often give but which particularly in your case, is to visit a BAcC member local to you for an informal chat and brief face to face assessment of what they think they might be able to achieve. If they think that acupuncture treatment may offer some real benefits they will say so but we also trust that they will tell you if there are alternatives. like cranial osteopathy for example, which may work better or work allngside the acupuncture to give you the best shot at getting
some improvements.

Q:  My mother of 80 years has many problems.  She has chronic arthritis and osteoporosis her spine is crumbling and she suffers terrible back pain.  For the past 2 years she has developed tremors which are in her hands and legs now.  Doctors diagnosed her as having Parkinson's but they feel after no success with drugs to treat the tremor they think she has something different but don't know what . she has bowel problems nausea and no appetite and us tiredcall the time.  She has poor concentration now and can't follow a TV programme read a story or knit , as she can't follow the sequence.  Her memory is pretty good though and she will remember many things going on in my life when I call her on the phone.   I am wondering if there could be some blockage in her spine to her brain that is causing the latter problems and could acupuncture help ? She awaits a brain scan on.   She is pretty much at the end of her tether and seems to be barely coping with all that is going on for her .  I would appreciate your thoughts.

A:  This is such a complex presentation we would be very reluctant to give a definitive view of whether acupuncture treatment may be helpful. We do believe that we are treating the person, not simply the condition, and the diagnostic skills in which we are trained very carefully will identify the balances and blockages. These are not always identical to the symptoms which someone has, the view being that symptoms are mainly alarm bells which point to fundamental imbalances in the system. However, over the centuries specific symptoms, when view together, do point to areas of weakness, and the practitioner's skill and art lies in tracing how they have developed and
which ones are primary. 

This is all a very roundabout way of saying that an experienced practitioner will almost certainly be able to find something which can treated in Chinese medicine terms , but whether this will then reduce the symptoms from which your mother is suffering will only become clear after a number of sessions. She certainly won't be risking any more disturbances by having treatment. We tend to say to people that it may be worth having a short course of treatment, perhaps four or five sessions, and then assessing
carefully what improvements there may have been and how sustainable they are.

There are a number of BAcC members in Aberdeenshire, and we are absolutely sure that any of them will be more than happy to see your mother for a short assessment visit without charge to let her know whether they think acupuncture may be a good option for her. Some of the symptoms from which she is suffering are suggestive of a need for other types of treatment, possibly cranial osteopathy or dietary adjustments, and it is highly likely that an experienced practitioner will know other professionals with whom they cross refer on a regular basis to ensure that patients get what they need.

The one thing we would say, though, is that your mother's age is no reason to believe that acupuncture will not have a good effect. This expert has treated ninety year old patients, and been pleasantly surprised by how well they respond. If her spirit is strong, there is potentially much to be done. We hope that you and she manage to locate the help that she needs.

Q:  My acupuncturist told me there's some problem with my kidney (kidney deficiency) because of my symptoms - : pain around my kidney, muscle stiffness and tingling or pain around my hips. It radiates radiate down to my legs causing stiffness, cramp, tingling and weakness, as well weak erection. Does this sounds right? Also what supplements or vitamins are is good for the kidneys. For your informtion my acupuncturist has  30 years experience, running an acupuncture school and also a PhD degree..

A:This sounds the sort of thing that might happen when someone has a kidney deficiency. However, notice the capital letters. Rather misleadingly, the organs of conventional medicine and the organs of Chinese medicine bear the same name, but there are huge differences between how each is understood. In the West, the organ is very much viewed as a purely physical thing, with specific physiological structures and functions. The organ in Chinese medicine also describes various functions, but of a much more generic nature across the whole system, in the body, mind and spirit. This is what gives Chinese medicine its great strength and perspective - seemingly unrelated physical, mental and emotional symptoms can all point to disturbances in a single organ.

Over the 2500 years of Chinese medicine history a number of syndromes have become second nature to practitioners where from simply looking at the tongue and taking the pulse they are able to say with some confidence the kinds of problem from which the patient may be suffering. This can sometimes be quite perturbing to patients, a bit like a magic show, but it also gives great confidence in the system that someone is able to use their diagnostic skills to spell out a number of problems which a person might have and which might not even count as symptoms to them.

Your practitioner has many years of experience and can almost certainly be relied on to be accurate in his assessment. If you are looking to add supplements to the treatment programme to enhance its effects, he is the best person to approach for advice. There is an almost infinite variety of possible supplements, but an experienced practitioner will know which ones are most likely to be appropriate for your specific needs. This is something which does need to be assessed carefully; the liver and kidney are understood in Chinese medicine to be the two Organs most involved in processing substances which are introduced into the body, from legal supplements and
prescription drugs through to recreational drugs. If someone takes large doses  of synthetic vitamins, for example, they can add to the burdens of an already
struggling organ.

Q:  I had a viral Infection in my right ear 3yrs ago. It affected my balance a lot, I had to lie down most of the day for about 3wks.My balance got better , but it left my ear deaf with a drone. As well as this I was suffering from candida overgrowth very bad. I think I have still got the candida , because the symptoms are still there. Would accupuncture help these in any way?

A:  We have been asked questions about candida infections before, usually when it has been brought on by antibiotics. Although the response we gave was geared to antibiotic causation, we think that the general points it made are worth repeating in full:

Can acupuncture help cure candida caused by taking many antibiotics? As you are no doubt well aware, there is still a great deal of controversy in the orthodox medical profession about whether candida constitutes a 'real' condition, and a great deal of sharp practice on the fringes of the alternative medicine profession selling people expensive remedies of doubtful provenance.

From a Chinese medicine perspective there are a number of issues which the practitioner would want to look at carefully. Chinese medicine is premised on the flow of energy, called 'qi', in the system whose balance and rhythms are integral to the well-being of the person. Many things can disrupt this flow, and western medications can be a major source of problems. However, when people say sight unseen 'antibiotics do x' or 'antibiotics do y' that is not really within the spirit of the system. Each person is a unique balance of energies, and how western drugs affect them can be very different. Obviously the Liver and Kidney (capitalised to denote the Organs as understood from a Chinese perspective) take much of the burden of processing medications, but if there is a pre-existing weakness anywhere in the system, this may be the weak point which is further weakened by the stress of the drugs, and the symptoms may not relate directly to specific Organs normally deemed to be under threat.

At the same time, the symptoms which someone has can point to under-performance in specific parts of the system, and if you have searched on google for 'acupuncture' and 'candida' you will often find reference to 'dampness', a form of imbalance within the system which can have both internal and external causes, and which often relates directly to the Spleen as understood in Chinese thought. This often leads to dietary recommendations as well as treatment.

However, we would recommend that your best course of action before committing to treatment is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment, hopefully without charge, to establish whether the presentation you have is best served by acupuncture treatment or not. There are some cases where it is clear that acupuncture may have a good effect, and others where there is no obvious direct connection between what someone is experiencing and an energetic weakness. This is not always a bar to treatment; the ancient systems treat the person, not the disease. However, where one can see a direct link, it is often easier to predict movement and change.

Candida is a very difficult condition which seems to arise against a more generalised backdrop of problems to do with stress, illness and lifestyle, and then causes
a fresh raft of these which in turn fuel the original problem. As with all medical approaches in these kinds of situations the key aim is to break the spiral and give the system time to recover. This can sometimes be very rapid, but in the case of candida our experience is that it can take time and usually involves acupuncture treatment as just a part of a broader treatment strategy involving diet, supplements and herbal or homeopathic treatment.

As we said in the earlier reply, however, there is almost a limitless supply of 'guaranteed to help' products, and while everything works for some people, there is rarely something which works for everyone. The best advice on diet and supplements will always come from someone properly trained to offer advice, and hopefully someone who is independent of any financial relationship to the products recommended. Our members tend to network locally, and most will know someone they trust to make a referral if required.

The noise in your ears is another matter. You may be lucky insofar as the background context of candida may mean that this is treatable as a part of the same overall pattern. However, noises in the ear, under the general heading of tinnitus, are very difficult to treat, and we have for many years advised people about not being too optimistic about the use of acupuncture for treating this. There are a couple of well-defined syndromes which might point to a rapid resolution, but in the majority of cases there seems to be very little conclusive evidence of a specific treatment which seems to work. Everything will work for someone, but there is rarely something which works for everyone. If you look at the tinnitus support group newsletters you will see this time and time again, a remarkable result for one person followed by dozens of other people trying the same solution without success.

The best advice we can ever give for conditions like yours, where the presentation really is unique to each individual patient, is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face chat and assessment of what they think treatment may be able to offer you. We are sure that they will give you an honest answer and will try to direct you to the best possible treatment for you, even if this is not with them.

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