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Ask an expert - general

235 questions

A: We're afraid the answer is not a great deal. We have trawled the research databases, and apart from one very small study about twenty years ago of two patients, neither of whom showed any improvement after treatment, there have been very few case reports at all. This does not mean that they don't exist; there are literally thousands of studies undertaken in China every year. Most, however, are not translated, and we have to work on the premise that the ones that make people sit up and take notice are the ones which generate important results. Routine studies which show minor improvements are usually acknowledged and left untreated.

 Stammering is a very complex problem with all sorts of emotional and physical causes, and it might just be possible that a skilled practitioner might see something in the overall pattern of the child's energies which might offer some hope. We are always cautious about how we express this. Chinese medicine treats the person, not the condition, and so at some level you could say that it treats anything. 'Treat', however, is often taken to be synonymous with 'cure', and this is certainly not the case.

 Although we are all by the nature of our work generalists, but there are a couple of areas like obstetrics and paediatrics where we are looking at accrediting postgraduate education in recognition of expert practice. Children are not little adults, and there are a number of well-established courses and core texts which underpin specialist treatment. Many hundreds of practitioners in the BAcC have qualified to treat children, and although in the absence of finally agreed standards we cannot make recommendations, a google search for 'acupuncture' and 'children' in your area will almost certainly generate a number of hits. Alternatively you could ask a local BAcC member which of their colleagues specialises in treating children; most will have a 'go to' person in mind.

 The point of this is to see if you can arrange a brief assessment visit to see if there is anything in the case history which might encourage someone to believe that with treatment they may be able to help the child in question. We would expect them to give an honest assessment.

 What we do know well, though, from treating adults who stammer alongside other health issues is that there is no magic wand to effect change, and only in a few cases have we come across substantial changes. These have often been as much about reducing the anxiety which surrounds the problem as about actually stopping the problem at source, but conditions like this are often perpetuated by the worry about being about to stammer. 

 We hope that you manage to find someone who can offer you good face to face advice.

Q:  I tripped over a step over 18 months ago and hit my head. I have totally lost my balance. I have had MRI scan and cat scan.  I have been told there is nothing else they can do for me. It is not vertigo and when I am out in the dark I have to have someone with me as I stumble all over the place. I am trying a Cranial osteopath but that is doing no good. Do you think acupuncture will help get my balance back.

A:  This is a very difficult question to answer. The fact that there is no visible damage and that cranial osteopathy has had no effect are not very encouraging when trying to say whether acupuncture might help. The latter (cranial osteopathy) works in broadly similar ways, and if that is doing nothing it does not bode well.

 However, on a more positive note, we get many referrals from cranial osteopaths when patients do not respond, and on many occasions we are able to help. From a Chinese medicine perspective we are looking at functional relationships within the body, not structural ones. Our basic premise is that there is a flow of energy in the body, which we call 'qi', whose flow, rhythm and balance determines the way in which all of the functions of the body perform as they should. Our skills are to identify weaknesses and blockages in the flow which cause pathological and functional changes, and to use needles to correct them.

 Of course, it sounds a great deal simpler when put this way than it actually is, and there is a considerable skill in identifying exactly what is causing a problem. This may not always be where or how the presenting condition appears to be, and can sometimes lie elsewhere. There may have been local disruptions to what we regard as normal flow in the damage you sustained which remain even though the body appears to have healed, and there may have been other mental and emotional consequences of what happened to you which have caused a problem 'downstream', as it were. These could just as easily result in a functional disturbance like loss of balance.

 The best advice we can give for unique problems such as yours is that you visit a local BAcC member for an informal chat about what may be possible. Most are very happy to give up a short amount of time without charge to assess whether acupuncture treatment is a good option, and this also has the advantage that you can meet someone and see where they work before committing to treatment.


Q:  This is quite different from the usual enquiries about weight loss!

A: However, the first thing we would want to know in any case like this is what conventional medical investigations had been done, especially checks on many of the hormones of the body, to see if there are any major issues about uptake of nutrients or excessive burning off through, for example, an elevated thyroid function. We would also need to ask, as delicately as possible, whether there were any issue with food in the background, periods of anorexia in teenage years, from which the system has not yet fully recovered and re-balanced. And, of course, we would always ask about the rest of the family - it used to be said that oaks beget oaks, and willows beget willows. If someone comes from a family who are all slightly under-weight according to the charts which people use as a defining standard, then the chances are that this is a normal state for them.

 We would also want to ask a great many questions about food intake and appetite. Many people eat their meals at the wrong time of day, and often have foods which do not suit them, and this could well reduce their chances of gaining weight. This is much more likely to result in the opposite phenomenon, though, and we have to be honest and say that we have not come across people who have lost weight through eating the wrong types of food at the wrong time of day.

 The best that we can say, really, is that if the system is in balance, then unless there are physical reasons which prevent someone reaching a target weight they should be able to achieve some weight gain by the simple expedient of eating more. When looking at someone's digestion from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective we would be looking at their digestion, distribution and absorption processes to see if there were any signs that these were not working as they should. Such is the nature of Chinese medicine that this in itself would not be enough. It is critically important to see these functions within the context of the whole system, and that is why twenty people with the same symptom may be treated in twenty entirely different ways - we treat people, not conditions.

 The best advice we can give, however, is to visit a local practitioner to seek face to face advice about what is going on. If they can see something straight away which might indicate that there was an issue in your system that might be addressed and help your problem that would be a good basis to give treatment a try. Even if there weren't treatment of the person as a whole to re-balance everything can have a remarkable effect. What we advise people to avoid, though, is getting drawn into prolonged treatment at great expense without any real results.

 In your case, it would be important to establish what a reasonable target weight was, and also to research what kind of pace this change would need using conventional methods, i.e. not just gaining weight but doing so in a way which was sustainable and good for the body. This 'expert' could gain five pounds this weekend  by eating cream cakes but not in a way which was good for the body, or its shape. This would/could determine how much treatment might be necessary and over what period. If the desired change could take six months it might be unrealistic and unnecessary to have weekly treatment. It'a a bit like watering a plant; the plant has to have time to absorb and can't simply be watered daily to make things happen faster.

 We hope that this helps, and are sorry we can't be more specific, but this really is one of those cases where we would actually need to see what is going on to give more specific advice.

A:  This question illustrates the problems we have with published research and its use and interpretation. There is a systematic review published a little while ago

which appears to be quite encouraging, citing as it does the cumulative results of 13 studies. While we would normally be quite positive about this, making our usual comments  about this bearing out our clinical experience, the reality is far more complex.  In fact, the Cochrane database assessment of the value of acupuncture treatment is far less encouraging

 Many of the cases we see and have seen are very complex, and some of the manifestations of what can often be a very broad brush clinical definition are a great deal easier to treat than others. In all cases, though, it is making sense of the symptoms within the overall presentation which matters, and the labelling of all sorts of presentations under the one diagnostic banner headline can be misleading.

 That said, paediatric acupuncture is an area of specialism within traditional acupuncture where some of the postgraduate training has reached a stage where it may be formally recognised as the basis for claiming expert practice. In the source texts used by the courses there are several clearly identified syndromes which fall under the general heading of ADHD and some well tried treatment protocols, along with lifestyle advice, which may be beneficial.

 Rather than say blithely 'it will work' we would advise you to try to find someone in your area who has undertaken this postgraduate training and ask their advice. If it is you own child who has the problem then we would recommend that you try to arrange a brief face to face consultation to see what may be possible. Our internal procedures don't allow us to make individual recommendations, but if you use the google search terms 'acupuncture children' and the town where you live we strongly suspect that you will find someone who has undertaken training with some of the well established postgraduate courses. That is not to say that any of our members may not be able to help, but children are not simply small adults, and there are specific problems which they face which may require slightly more fine tuning than is found in ordinary generalist practice.



I  have seen few vidoes of acupuncture for nose correction. I have a bulbous short ungrown nose. Is it safe to have acupunture treatment and is it permanent and are there any side effects?

This is not something on which we can really comment.

 We have looked at the video accounts to which you are probably referring, and although they look pretty impressive they do not bear a great deal of relationship to what we do as acupuncture practitioners in trying to adjust the energies of the body. This is rightly called acupuncture because it involves putting needles in the body but as far as we can see, apart from the use of Hegu, a point on the hand for acupuncture anaesthesia, the rest of the technique looks rather like a physical reworking of the tissues using a larger needles than most of us would consider.

 There are a number of individuals whose clinics in India and in the United States promise results which are not replicated elsewhere. We have found, for example, a clinic in the US and one in India which offer treatment for an eye condition retinitis pigmentosa for which there is very little successful conventional treatment. Our view is that given our community if there were to be a successful treatment for these problems then the word would spread rapidly and we would all be offering the treatment. The fact that the results, as genuine as they appear to be, are only generated by a small number of charismatic individuals makes us wonder whether there is something going on here which has more to do with the unique nature of the individual than the practices which they use.

 We are sorry not to be able to say more than this, but we would be highly reluctant to create unrealistic expectations unless we felt that this was something that any of us could help with, and our feeling is that this is not an undertaking which we could give.

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