Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine FAQs

Here are the answers to your most frequently asked questions about Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

Diagnosis and treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on thousands of years of studying the purpose, flow, and impact of Qi (energy) in the body. TCM therapies include acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Asian bodywork, moxibustion, cupping and Qigong, to name a few. The basic foundation for TCM is that Qi (pronounced “Chee”), or the life energy, flows through the body. This energy flows in channels known as meridians that connect all of our major organs. According to Chinese medical theory, illness arises when the cyclical flow of Qi in the meridians becomes unbalanced or is blocked.

What is acupuncture?

The most well-known traditional Chinese medical procedure, acupuncture is the practice of inserting sterilized, stainless-steel needles (that are often as fine as a human hair) into the body at specific points to relieve pain or treat a disease. Acupuncture points are areas of designated electrical sensitivity. Stimulation of these points has been shown to be effective in the treatment of specific health problems. They have been mapped out by the Chinese over a period of more than 2,000 years.

What is the history of acupuncture?

The earliest recorded use of acupuncture dates from 200 BCE. Knowledge of acupuncture spread from China along Arab trade routes towards the West. Up until the early 1970s, however, most Americans had never heard of acupuncture. Acupuncture was formally recognized as part of mainstream medicine’s range of healing options in 1997, when the National Institutes of Health issued a statement documenting its safety and efficacy for a range of health conditions. The use of acupuncture is on the rise in the United States. Between 1997 and 2007 the number of visits among adults nearly tripled, rising from 27.2 to 79.2 per 1,000 adults. According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately 3.1 million adults in the United States used acupuncture in 2006, a 47-percent increase from the 2002 estimate.

Does acupuncture work?

There is increasing scientific evidence proving the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of medical ailments, including chemotherapy-induced nausea, autoimmune disorders, chronic back pain, hypertension, and allergic rhinitis. The World Health Organization recognizes almost one hundred diseases, symptoms, or conditions for which acupuncture is effective. Much of the research on acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is being conducted by universities, research institutions, and the National Institutes of Health.

How does acupuncture work?

The insertion of needles into specific points can alter biochemical and physiological conditions in order to treat a wide variety of illnesses.
Research suggests that the needling process, and other modalities used in acupuncture, may produce their complex effects in a wide variety of ways in the brain and the body. For example, stimulated nerve fibers are believed to transmit signals to the spinal cord and brain, thus activating parts of the central nervous system. The spinal cord and brain then release certain hormones responsible for making us feel better overall and, more specifically, feel less pain. Acupuncture may regulate blood circulation and body temperature. It may also affect white blood cell activity (responsible for our immune function), reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and regulate blood sugar levels. In general, acupuncture appears to transmit its effects via electric, neurologic, hormonal, lymphatic, and electromagnetic wave pathways.

What does an acupuncturist do?

In addition to asking questions about your health, the acupuncturist may want to take your pulse at several locations along the wrist, and look at your tongue to observe its shape, color, and coating. He or she may also observe the color and texture of your skin, your complexion, and other physical characteristics that offer clues to your health. The acupuncturist then asks you to lie down on a padded examining table, and he or she inserts the needles, twirling or gently stimulating each as it goes in. You may not feel the needles at all, or you may feel a quick twinge that subsides as soon as the needle is completely in. Once the needles are all in place, you rest for 15 to 60 minutes. During this time, you’ll probably feel relaxed and sleepy and may even doze off. At the end of the session, the acupuncturist quickly and painlessly removes the needles. The acupuncturist might also discuss diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations, as well as herbal supplements.

How many acupuncture treatments do I need?

The number of acupuncture treatments you need depends on the complexity of your illness, whether it is a chronic or recent condition, and your general health. For example, you may need only one treatment for a recent wrist sprain, whereas for a long-standing, chronic illness you may need treatments once or twice a week for several months to get desired results.

What conditions does acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture is particularly effective for pain relief and for post-surgery and chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting. In addition, both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan for many illnesses. A partial list includes: addiction (such as alcoholism), asthma, bronchitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, facial tics, fibromyalgia, headaches, irregular periods, low back pain,menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis, sinusitis, spastic colon (often called irritable bowel syndrome), stroke rehabilitation, tendonitis, tennis elbow, and urinary problems such as incontinence. You can safely combine acupuncture with prescription drugs and other conventional treatments, but it is important for your primary care physician to be aware of and to monitor how your acupuncture treatment may be affecting your conventional therapies.

Does my medical insurance cover Chinese medical treatments?

Acupuncture is currently covered by many major insurance companies in the United States; however, acupuncture coverage varies greatly depending on the company and individual plan. There are also many components to an acupuncture treatment which an insurance company may only cover partly or not at all. It is important to check with your insurance company to see what coverage your plan offers.

What conditions are appropriately treated by Chinese herbal medicine?

Chinese herbal medicine treats the full range of human disease such as acute illness--like flu and the common cold--to chronic disease, such as allergies, gynecological disorders, autoimmune diseases, chronic viral diseases, and degenerative diseases due to aging. Herbal medicine can also help to maintain or create balance and health before disease sets in.

What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Chinese Herbal Medicine is one of the great herbal systems of the world. The literate tradition of case histories extends back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Therapeutic categories include digestives, materials that improve circulation, nervous system calming agents, antimicrobials and more. 

What types of substances are used in Chinese medicine?

Traditional Chinese herbal medicine consists of over 11,500 substances derived from plant, animal, and mineral sources. If you are opposed to the use of animal products in your treatment, please let your practitioner know. AOMA practitioners do not use substances from endangered species.

How does Chinese herbal medicine differ from pharmaceutical drugs?

Many pharmaceuticals are derived from herbal medicine. However, drugs usually rely on singular molecular compounds, many of which are isolated extracts of the plants’ active ingredients. Using the whole plant in herbal medicine is more balanced and less likely to cause side effects. Chinese herbs are usually prescribed in combination to increase the efficacy of the formula and help decrease any possible side effects. Most importantly, for an herbalist, the goal of treatment is not to simply relieve symptoms but to treat the internal imbalance at the root of the problem.

I take pharmaceutical drugsā€”can I still take Chinese herbs?

It is very important to let your practitioner know about any pharmaceuticals that you are currently taking. In most cases, taking Chinese herbs is not contraindicated for people who are also taking pharmaceutical drugs. There are some exceptions to this, however, so it is very important to only take herbs that have been prescribed by a licensed practitioner.

What can Chinese herbal medicine help with?

Chinese herbal medicine can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including, but not limited to:

Skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea, and hives,
Gastrointestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, and ulcerative colitis,
Gynecological conditions, including pre-menstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, and infertility,
Respiratory conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, chronic coughs, and allergies,
Rheumatological conditions (e.g. osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis),
Urinary conditions including chronic cystitis,
Psychological issues (e.g. depression, stress, and anxiety).

How long will I need to take Chinese herbs?

This can vary on a case-by-case basis. Generally, if an acute condition is being treated, you can expect to see results fairly quickly using herbs. If the condition is more chronic, you may need to take the herbs for a longer period of time before you achieve lasting results. It is important to keep your practitioner informed of any changes in your condition so that s/he can modify your treatment accordingly.

What forms do the herbs come in?

The four basic forms of Chinese herbs are pills, powders, tinctures, and teas made from bulk herbs. All of the forms are effective, but you should discuss with your practitioner which will work best for you.

Bulk herbs are the most potent, but they also require the most work. You will need to boil the herbs at home to make a tea. Usually, a new batch of herbs will need to be boiled every two days.  

Powdered herbs have already been processed, so you just need to measure them out and dissolve them in hot water.  The advantage of both the bulk and powdered herbs is that your practitioner is able to make a customized formula based on your specific symptoms. The drawback is that many herbs have a strong flavor that you may or may not find pleasant. Both the bulk and powdered herbs can be used in topical applications to treat various skin conditions or traumatic injuries with bruising or swelling.

The pills are the most convenient form, and are a good choice for people who may need to be on a formula for an extended period of time. The disadvantage of the pills is that they aren’t able to be customized. You may need to take more than one formula at a time to address your symptoms.

Herbal tinctures are made by soaking the bulk herbs in an alcohol base to extract the herbs’ active components. They are also a very convenient and portable method of taking the herbs, but are not suitable for people who cannot tolerate alcohol.

Where do you get your herbs?

The AOMA dispensary carries herbal products from sources that comply with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). These standards require that the medicinals receive rigorous testing for heavy metals, bacteria, pesticides, and other contaminants. Further, all materials can be traced to their source and have batch number controls consistent with best practices. The vast majority of the herbs sold through our dispensary are grown in China and distributed through American companies that also comply with GMP.
 

How much do the herbs cost?

The cost will vary depending on what form of the herbs you have been prescribed. Prices can range anywhere from $10 to around $30 for one week’s worth of herbs.

Is it safe for children to take herbs?

In China, pediatrics is a Traditional Chinese Medicine specialty that includes the use of herbal medicine. Your practitioner will modify your child’s dosage based on age and weight.
 

Can I refill my herbal prescription?

In most cases, yes. Some formulas are only meant to be taken short-term. Ask your practitioner how long you should expect to be on a particular formula. Often, formulas will be modified over time as your condition or symptoms change.

How do I refill my herbal prescription?

Call AOMA Herbal Medicine and one of the staff members will verify whether refills are available. If none are listed, we will ask your practitioner for authorization to refill your prescription. We will then call and let you know if the refill has been approved or if your practitioner would like you to come in for another appointment. We ask that you give the dispensary at least 24 hours to process a refill request.

Why do most bulk herbs at AOMA Herbal Medicine require a prescription?

Patient safety is paramount. A practitioner will be able to recommend the most appropriate herbal prescription to address your specific concerns. We do sell some bulk herbs to the general public that do not require a prescription. These are herbs that are considered to be foods and are often used in congees (Chinese porridges).