Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine Part I

Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine


There are few things more misunderstood than Chinese Medicine is in the West. These days more and more people are hearing about and trying Chinese Medicine, most commonly Acupuncture, to treat their ills. As Chinese Medicine reaches into the mainstream, the misinformation is multiplying exponentially. I can’t speak to every errant idea out there, but I hope to cover some of the biggies in this article. If you’ve been wondering what the heck is going on with this seemingly mystical medicine, read on.

Myth: Acupuncture is Chinese Medicine

Fact: Chinese Medicine is a complete system of medicine, just like Western Medicine. It has a complete system of diagnosis and treatment for any possible dysfunction that may present. This is not to say that Chinese Medicine excels at treating every condition, just that it has a method of diagnosing and treating every condition.

Acupuncture is like the physical therapy of Chinese Medicine. It works with the nervous system, and its number one application is pain relief. In China, Acupuncturists are considered far less skilled than Herbalists.  All of the best and brightest doctoral candidates pursue Herbal Medicine.

Just as Western Medicine is comprised of both Physical Therapy and Medications, Chinese Medicine includes both Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine. Most internal conditions, conditions that relate to organ function, overall circulation and non-musculo-skeletal conditions, are treated primarily with Herbal Medicine. Just like drugs in Western Medicine, herbs allow your Chinese Medicine practitioner to affect organ function, inflammation and circulation.

The other major areas of Chinese Medicine are heat therapy (moxabustion), massage and joint mobilization (Tui Na) and Nutrition. Nutrition is the most important, and most overlooked, aspect of medicine in general. No medical treatment can override what you put in your body multiple times per day if that food/beverage/substance is actively harming you. True health can only result from personal responsibility and a life that supports life.

Read Part II of this series

Read Part III of this series

What Are Acupuncture Meridians?

In my practice, I commonly get asked the question, “How do you pick the points?” or “Are there specific spots where you put the needles?” In order to answer these questions, you have to understand the meridian system. In Acupuncture, the term Meridian comes from the French translation rather than from the original Chinese writings. The Chinese term more correctly translates into Channel or Vessel; it is the same term used for blood vessel. For the purposes of this article, I will use the term meridian—because as you’ll see in a moment it helps me explain what these things really are.

First let’s start with the usual definition. If you look this up elsewhere on the internet, you’ll find several versions of basically the same definition. The meridians are invisible pathways inside the body where the mystical, magical qi (pronounced chee) flows.

These invisible tubes can become blocked by stress or other invisible forces. You may or may not know this is happening. Acupuncture can remove these blockages, but you probably won’t know if it’s working or not. It will take a Licensed Acupuncturist to decode your pulse for you to know if your qi is now flowing smoothly.

Some other practitioners will probably be highly offended at the last paragraph, because this is exactly what they have been telling their patients for years. I know you hate me! But I must de-mystify this meridian business, so that we can all move into the 21st Century together!

Now let’s talk about some other things that have meridians. Have you ever seen a map? A globe? A nautical chart? All of these devices use the markers of latitude and longitude to show the relationships between locations. Another word for longitude is meridian—as in the Prime Meridian.

Now have you ever been in a plane and looked out the window? Have you ever seen one of these meridians drawn across the Earth? That’s right, NO.

So what does this mean? Does it mean Meridians aren’t real or useful or important? NO!

It means that Meridians are man-made devices, drawn by humans, to help us navigate. They are not an inherent part of the natural world. They are our interpretation of the natural world. And so it is with the Acupuncture Meridians.

The Acupuncture Meridians are lines drawn by humans to explain the relationship between different areas of the body. Different parts on the same Meridian are connected. But it goes further than that, each Meridian has a balancing relationship with specific other Meridians. This balancing relationship determines where to put the needles in order to heal the sick area.

So as an Acupuncturist, I only have to determine three things. First, the diagnosis, in other words which channel is sick and where? Second I need to know which channels will balance that sick channel. And third I choose the channel and area that I’m going to needle to balance the sick channel.

See! It’s not mystical at all! It’s actually quite systematic! So far I haven’t needed to use psychic healing on any one of my patients. The science of Acupuncture works just great!




Thank you so much to Dr. Tan for teaching me this way of seeing our medicine! It has transformed my practice.

See more about his system here in this video:

Acupuncture Helps Arthritis

Many people in San Francisco are looking for a natural, drug-free way to treat their arthritis pain. We boast an incredibly active population in the Bay Area, and people don’t want to give up on being involved in life just because they now have arthritis. However, the desire to stay active can lead to a daily regimen of anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs are primarily over the counter, so other than being bad for your stomach, most people assume they are safe.

If you were watching the news in 2004, you probably remember Vioxx being pulled off the market due to its connection with heart attacks. The FDA then recommended all similar medications be labeled as possibly dangerous to heart health. What most people don’t know is that medications like Advil (Ibuprofen) fall in this category as well. In fact multiple studies have shown that ibuprofen increases risk of death from heart disease in healthy people. It also interferes with the effectiveness of aspirin therapy in those with cardiac risk. Other studies have shown that NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) make arthritis worse! That’s right, they have been shown to impede tendon, cartilage and bone repair. “Wait!” you say, “I thought I was supposed to take these drugs for these problems, and now you’re telling me that I am making the problem worse?” Sadly, yes.

So now you want to remain active, even with your arthritis, but you don’t want to risk your stomach, heart and the cartilage you are trying to protect. What now?

Acupuncture has been shown to be wildly effective in the treatment of Arthritis pain. And the reason, in this author’s opinion, comes down to circulation. Arthritis basically consists of two problems: inflammation and low blood flow. The major types of arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis and Psoriatic arthritis have varying degrees of the two issues with Rheumatoid and Psoriatic being more inflammatory and Osteo being more related to poor circulation.

In Chinese Medicine, the terminology was determined before we had all of these medical explanations. Therefore we often use simple words to explain these conditions. A more inflammatory condition would be called “heat,” and a problem with lack of circulation would be called “cold.” In fact, if you take a thermal scan of a joint, you can, in fact, see that inflammatory conditions are hot (red) and low circulation conditions are cold (blue). We treat these problems with opposite methodology, therefore it is very important to properly evaluate the condition.

Once your arthritis has been properly diagnosed as hot, cold or some combination of the two, treatment can commence. That treatment will focus on correcting the issue. The answer to both problems is in the circulation.

Blood performs two basic roles:

1. To bring nutrients and oxygen to an area

2. To take debris or waste away and eliminate it

Let’s call #1 the milk man and # 2 the garbage collector.

Now the problem with the cold condition (low circulation) is that the milk man can’t get in to deliver the milk. Now the joint is starving. It doesn’t have the proper nutrient flow it needs to stay healthy. This results in a degradation of the tissue. Just like a lack of food would cause you to waste away over time.

With the inflammatory condition (heat), we have too much stuff stuck in one place (usually fluid), and we need the garbage collector to come and take it away. If the garbage collector is not removing the garbage, it will build up and rot. Believe me, your joints are not good place to store the garbage of your body, and your body will revolt if you leave it there.

While this is a vast oversimplification, it is a good illustration of the importance of blood circulation. So what does Acupuncture have to do with this?

Acupuncture’s entire job is to manipulate the circulation of the body. We (Acupuncturists) choose points that are designed to increase or reduce fluid, blood or oxygen in a certain area. That’s all we do. Through thousands of years of experimentation, protocols for affecting the circulation in specific areas (whether that be a joint or an organ) have been developed. As long as the condition is correctly analyzed and the practitioner is trained in the proper treatment approach, the chosen points will work to correct the circulation problem.

So what will this mean in the case of arthritis? How will you know your circulation has been brought back to normal? We could take a thermal scan, and these scans have been used to show the immediate effects Acupuncture has on circulation. But the most important issues to most people with arthritis are pain level and mobility. It turns out that these indicators are quite effective in determining the success of treatment. In other words, if you feel better and can move better we can assume that the Acupuncture is working to correct the circulation problem in your joints.

Link: what to expect at your first visit

For more on how to know when you’re better: link to Acupuncture Done Correctly Gets Results

Vioxx recall:

Articles on Acupuncture and Arthritis:

Beware of herb suggestions in this one, they’re not entirely accurate:


I’d ignore the insurance coverage advice here. Often insurance coverage of Acupuncture is not what it appears to be:

We really don’t put all these needles in your face. They just love these pictures, because they are so dramatic:

More on the heart and stroke dangers of ibuprofen:

Ibufprofen interferes w/ aspirin effectiveness:

Ibuprofen causes cartilage damage:

You can find thousands more references on the internet if these are insufficient!


Thanks to Bob Doane, LAc and his office manager Kim for changing my understanding of Acupuncture and circulation.

Acupuncture Done Correctly Gets Results

People in Pensacola are busy—maybe busy fishing, sailing and surfing, but we’re busy. We don’t have time to spare for approaches that don’t produce real results. It’s great to lie down for a thirty minute Acupuncture treatment and relax to soothing nature sounds. But who has time for a nap if a little stress relief is all you get? You could go to the beach for that.

I’ve met so many new patients who have had Acupuncture in the past. When I ask if it worked, they reply, “I’m not sure.” Many of them aren’t even exactly sure what they were being treated for or what the desired outcome of the treatment was. This confusion comes about because people often equate “natural” or “holistic” with some kind of subtle, below the surface change that is not obvious. I myself have gone to the health food store and bought a homeopathic remedy (before becoming an Acupuncturist), say for muscle soreness, and not really been able to tell if it had an effect. This doesn’t necessarily mean homeopathy doesn’t work—I honestly don’t know if it does or not—but it reinforces the idea that drugs, whether I approve of them or not, produce obvious results and natural approaches do not.

This assumption is flatly false. Chinese medicine (this includes Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine) administered after a proper evaluation and diagnosis should show concrete results within the first month—at the longest. Many patients experience a positive change—for example an obvious reduction in pain—during or after the very first treatment. More complex problems, however, may require a series of treatments to start to see a positive effect. That brings up the question, how do you know you are getting a positive effect?

In most Acupuncture offices, the patient report is the only measure of progress. And that patient report may be as vague as the answer to, “How are you doing today?” As people tend to have various factors which would influence the answer to such a question, this is not a very accurate way to gauge success. For example, if your car got towed this morning, the answer would likely be fairly negative. What we do at Gulf Coast Wellness is create a set of data at the initial exam that we then measure success against at the follow-up exams. Of course, this approach would require actually doing exams.

So what is this data? It’s simply a combination of percentage improvement on chief complaints and number of tests that were originally positive and are now negative. Let’s look at what that means.

Chief complaints are the issues that you come in hoping to resolve. For example, if someone has low back pain and migraine headaches, and these are the two problems they most want to get rid of, these would be their chief complaints and the main focus of the treatment. Someone else may come in for digestive problems, insomnia and arthritis pain. The chief complaints vary with every patient. The improvement in chief complaints is measured either by comparing a survey of the current frequency and intensity of the problem or by patient report—that is, the patient says, “My back pain is 60% better than when I started.”

The tests done at the initial exam follow the chief complaints. Range of motion exams will be performed on any joint that hurts or that may be involved in causing a nearby area to hurt. This is similar to the exam you would expect to receive from an MD. The pulse and tongue will be examined on every single patient; these are Chinese Medicine’s secret weapons. They allow us to see what’s happening inside the body. At our office, we also perform palpation exams. This means that we press on a lot of Acupuncture points or organ reflex areas to see which are tender. The resulting pattern can help inform treatment. Blood pressure, weight, and other measurements are commonly taken as well.

Periodically, all tests are re-measured and compared to the initial result. This is called a re-examination. The results of this re-examination tell whether or not you are improving at the expected rate. The value of this is two-fold. One, we are not overly influenced by an optimistic patient. For example, someone reports feeling 80% better, but the more objective tests show only a 30% improvement. Two, we are not overly influenced by a patient who is discouraged. For example, their frequency/intensity survey shows a 70% reduction in the frequency of their pain. Today, however, is part of the 30% and they are feeling down about their results. This causes them to underreport their improvement. Weighing the subjective and objective against each other allows us to get a clearer picture.

Why get a clearer picture? Because this is where treatment adjustments should be made. If a patient is not progressing as expected, we had better change the treatment approach immediately. They may require a different point prescription (the Acupuncture points used in the treatment), the addition of a modality (herbal medicine or nutrition, for example), increased treatment frequency or a different approach altogether (such as a referral to a different practitioner). If the patient’s condition is resolving faster than expected, they may actually need less treatment than previously anticipated. In this case, a particular modality may be removed or the treatment frequency may be reduced.

At Gulf Coast Wellness we graph these results to obtain an easy to interpret picture of a patient’s progress. Anyone can understand that a graph moving steeply upward is excellent, and one moving downward is not good. Through experience, we know what kind of graph shape represents average, excellent and poor results, and we can use these shapes to help inform continuing treatment.

If diagnosis is correct, then treatment should be correct. If treatment is correct, results will follow. Therefore, by monitoring results, it can be determined whether or not diagnosis and treatment are actually correct. In other words, if you are getting Acupuncture, and you’re not sure if you’re getting results, it is likely that either diagnosis or treatment (or both) are incorrect.



I didn’t make up tracking results all on my own. I was trained extensively by Curry Chadoir, LAc of Acupuncture and Holistic Health Associates

I refined many of my methods through internship with Robert Doane, LAc of Acupuncture and Wellness Center

Both of them are extremely generous with their time and expertise. If you are an Acupuncturist reading this, I highly recommend finding a way to learn what they have to teach.