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Ask an expert - general

178 questions

Q:  I have lots of scars on my skin which causes my skin to have a lot of discolouration. Especially on my arm my butt and legs. Currently my butt has
goosebump like bumps and sort of acne scarring. I've been looking for many treatments and have also used home remedies like lemon but the results are disappointing.

A:  We are not rally sure what to advise in cases like yours. Our first thought would be that we would need a great deal more information about how the scarring arose, and what the discolouration was, i.e whether it was the scar tissue which was causing the skin to be discoloured or whether the skin around the scar tissue was also discoloured. Scar tissue itself is not that easy to remove or modify, but there are occasions when it can be affecting the flow of energy in the surrounding area, and this can in turn lead to secondary problems. If the scarring itself is the result of a body-wide problem like acne, then there may be something which treatment of the system as a whole can do.

Generally speaking the advice we give to most enquirers is that a visit to a BAcC member local to them is probably their best option to get a brief face to face assessment of what acupuncture treatment may be able to offer, especially when the person has a problem for which there may be far too many possible causes and solutions for us to go through here. 

The received wisdom inside the profession is that skin problems are often amenable to a mixture of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, and it may be worthwhile finding someone who practises both. Most of the members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) are also BAcC members, so this may be the best route for you to pursue to get a more detailed view of what may be possible. 

 Q: I get very emotional (start crying) when I see or hear of anything happy going on.  My eyes just start to cry, even when I see or hear about sad things. It is  affecting my work as a supervisor. Can acupuncture help?

This is the sort of problem which is not that well-researched other than in the context of something which admits of 'real' definition. Thus, you will find reports  and studies of over-emotional reactions during pregnancy and over-emotional causes of sleep disturbance, but very few case reports for what you describe, simple 'over emotion'. We can imagine, though, that while in some Mediterranean cultures open displays of emotion are much more acceptable, in this country we tend to be a little uneasy when someone is easily affected in this way and this can cause them a number of problems.

To a Chinese medicine practitioner this would not seem at all unusual, however. In Chinese medicine theory, the correct balance of energies in the body and the interconnection between body mind and spirit lend themselves to a central idea that the body in balance responds appropriately to the circumstances in which it finds itself. On an emotional level, this would translate into being able to express the full range of human emotions congruently, i.e. the right emotion at the right time, and appropriately, at the correct 'volume level'. Someone still grieving excessively 20 years after the death of a loved one, or laughing hysterically at very little, or getting angrier than would seem OK for whatever appeared to be the cause would make us think that the balance of the system had been disturbed. The way in which the display of emotions came out, when it happened, what makes it better or worse, in short all of the questions which you might ask about a physical pain, all point a practitioner to an understanding of the patterns and then in turn to potential treatment.

A:  That is not to say that you are guaranteed to get a good response. Even though someone may diagnose in Chinese medicine terms exactly what is going on, there can be an awful lot of what one might call 'habit energy' in the body - every time a particular event happens, we get the same reaction. This may not always be a comfortable reaction, but we are used to it and sometimes reluctant to let it go. This may sound silly, but many of us are resistant to change, even when it is beneficial. That is the reason why many practitioners are familiar with NLP, a technique for trying to 'unlock' these fixed patterns, and why they may consider referring you on to a hypnotherapist specialising in what is called Ericksonian hypnotherapy or just simply NLP to try to shift these problems.

We mention this only to alert you to the fact that there are a number of options, but we are pretty sure that traditional acupuncture itself may be able to offer you some benefit. The best advice we can offer, and usually do for cases where the personal circumstances of the individual may be integral to understanding what is happening, is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief face to face assessment of what may be possible and whether they believe that they are able to help you, and if not, what may be the best way of addressing this problem.


Q:  If I may I would like to ask also about the possible benefits of acupuncture on allergies. My poor wife,who is apparently suffering from candida (not yet formally diagnosed) is also allergic to a great number of more or less day-to-day foods,including dairy,wheat,shellfish,soya, celery etc-about 20 different items all told.

A:  There is a small amount of research on the use of acupuncture to treat allergies, but most of what we have been able to locate is about the sorts of allergies which can be easily tested, like an allergy to dust mites. The problem with food allergies from a research perspective is that there are so many confounding factors which make the selection of trial and control groups difficult that few researchers even try.

What we do find very commonly is that when the body is reacting strongly to one set of allergens, and we would class candida as something of this nature, the whole system tends to go on red alert, and people discover that they have become or are also allergic to a wide range of other things. We have often seen patients who have been tested with EAV machines, and they come back with immense lists of allergies and intolerances which leave them with only a couple of staples left to eat. We think that this is perhaps overstating the problem. Reducing the number of foods for which someone has intolerances will obviously reduce the burden on the immune system but finding the one(s) which is really the major factor will do a great deal more.

Not so simple as it sounds, though! We have come across two cases where patients were actually sensitive to electrical power circuits, and a rather strange case history published twenty years ago by a scientist reported that once his wife was effectively insulated from the house's power supply she sat down and ate a cheese and tomato sandwich which would in previous times have had an almost instant and debilitating effect.

However, when we are asked about allergies, our response from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective is that the over-reaction of the body's immune system is a sign that the overall balance has been disturbed. There are treatments which we can use which can affect the defensive energy (called 'wei qi') of the body directly, and we might use these if we felt that during an acute episode there was some kind of pathogen which we could remove or quell. The more common approach, though, would be to go back to basics and simply work hard to re-establish the overall balance. Chinese medicine was predicated on the simple basis that when a system was in balance, symptoms would resolve spontaneously, being themselves only indicators that the balance was out. When we have published PR stories on our website (which you can find if you go to our home page and under site search type allergies) most often this is the simple strategy which the practitioner has used.

Allergies and allergy testing belong to a field where desperate people are often relieved of large amounts of money for something which has no provenance or proposes strange solutions. In our view the tried and tested therapies with a long history of effective use - acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy - in conjunction with some carefully controlled elimination diets can often bring things under sufficient control to make life more bearable and convenient.  

.Q:  Is it possible to have acupuncture for the help of getting my taste and smell back?

A:  This question comes up from time to time, and one of the answers we gave was:

Most of what people regard as 'taste' is in fact 'smell', and if someone has lost their sense of smell entirely the range of tastes which they can experience is very limited. There is a frequently cited case study from nearly a decade ago
which reports the successful treatment of one case, but in all honesty there are very few others, and no substantial evidence suggesting that this has been replicated by other practitioners. Most members have had patients for whom the loss of the sense of small. anosmia, has been a secondary complaint, but we have heard very few reports of great success.
It may be worth you while to visit a BAcC member local to you to ask their advice face to face. If you were to decide to have acupuncture treatment, or indeed any treatment from a complementary medicine practitioner, we would advise you to be very clear about outcomes and reviews of progress. Our experience is that people can rapidly run up considerable costs chasing solutions when there is nothing substantive to suggest the treatment is having any effect, and the responsible practitioner will always draw a clear line in the sand if they are not achieving changes which the patient can experience and which underpin continued treatment. 

Essentially we would not want to give you an unrealistic expectation about the outcome. We have not heard many reports of this condition being treated successfully, and there are very few case reports on the web which report success.

We have edited out some bits of the answer because the questioner had also problems with excessive mucus production, and we could not say without a face to face examination whether there may be some aspect of this which was the principal reason why the sense of smell had gone. It may well be that if you visit a BAcC member for advice they can see something in the energetic presentation and balance which similarly encourages them to believe that there may be a solution. There may also be something in the way in which your sense of smell and taste went which encourages then.

The bottom line, though, is that if you are fortunate enough to find that it works, you may be the exception rather than the rule.

Q:  I have had chronic pain in the testicle and area of repair following a mesh repair of an inguinal hernia 4 years ago.  9 weeks ago I had the mesh removed and a neurectomy of the illioinguinal nerve, which was supposed to sort the problem out but has not. Would acupuncture help and if so is there any particular type that would be best. Can you recommend anyone in the Leigh on Sea area who would be appropriate.

A: A great deal depends on what may be causing the pain. We are assuming that the neurectomy was selected after a very thorough neurological examination; it is not common practice to start cutting nerves unless there is a very good and clearly diagnosed reason. On the assumption that this nerve corresponded to the area in which you were and still are experiencing pain, then there may be a small chance that acupuncture treatment may be of benefit.

Acupuncture treatment does have a general pain-relieving effect which has been the object of a great deal of study over the years, as our factsheet on chronic pain shows:

The chemical markers for pain relief, the neurotransmitters, are easily measured to provide an objective marker of whether something is happening. The main question with treating at this kind of generic level is how much relief the treatment may give and how sustainable the relief is. In many cases this comes down, unfortunately, to a financial question: is the treatment affordable and worthwhile when the cost is set against the relief.

However, the understanding of the body as a system of energy in flow which underpins traditional Chinese medicine does afford other possibilities for consideration. Like any enclosed and self-contained system, if there is damage then where the flow is impaired pain will arise, either from a deficiency or excess of energy in the area, or through the stagnation in the flow. Using needles this flow can be reinstated, and the pain reduced or removed. Sometimes the very fact of surgical incision can create a blockage, as can the formation of scar tissue. This can sometimes have effects some distance away from the scar tissue itself. Treatment is often a mixture of local treatment and treatment some distance away, although we can reassure you immediately by saying that there are no acupuncture points on the testicle or scrotum! There are, however, points on the lower leg a which refer directly to this area, and these may come into play.

The best advice that we can give is to visit a BAcC member local to you for an informal assessment of what may be possible. Although we can be quite confident about the treatment of conditions which we often see it is far more difficult to offer opinions on unique presentations like yours. However, a skilled practitioner may well be able to make a few diagnostic soundings which can tell them how likely it will be to help your problem.   

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