Acupuncture is NOT Energy Medicine

Have you ever felt nervous to investigate Acupuncture, because it just doesn’t make sense to you? Maybe you are a science person and you just can’t buy the energy medicine thing. Maybe the idea of energy healing conflicts with your religious beliefs.

Not to worry! Acupuncture has nothing to do with magical energy. It is a physical medicine based on the body. Watch this video to find out more—and yes, I know I should re-shoot it. This was my first video, and this whole web thing has a learning curve to it. In the meantime, I’m just going to go help some patients and leave this less than beautiful video up, in case it can actually help someone.

And in case that didn’t blow your mind enough, check out some other myths and facts about Chinese Medicine!


Function = Health

Some define health as the absence of disease. At Gulf Coast Wellness, we think that’s setting the bar a bit low. There must be something that happens in between being perfectly healthy and having a disease. Ever wonder what that is? Watch this video to find out!–BUT WAIT—if you haven’t watched my What is Qi video yet, PLEASE watch that first

Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine I

Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine II

Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine III

Chris Kresser—Chinese Medicine Demystified

What to do when you’re sick

One question I constantly get asked is, “What should I do when I get sick?” If you have an Acupuncturist or Chinese Herbalist, they should be your first stop. The sooner you get treatment, the shorter your illness. Herbs are far more effective than medications for eradicating viruses and getting you back on your feet.

But what about the rest of you who don’t have any help? There are some simple, natural things you can do to feel better quickly and shorten the duration of your illness.

Obviously I’m no video expert, or I’d know how to come up with a better thumbnail, but I keep doing these anyway in an attempt to help you learn more about your health! I hope you enjoy it!

What is Qi?

Qi. It’s the most confusing idea in Chinese Medicine and the main reason that people with scientific or traditional medical backgrounds don’t believe in it. But it turns out that the most common conception of qi is utterly incorrect. Watch the video to find out the real definition of qi and how we went so wrong.

More information on this topic:

Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine I

Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine II

Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine III

Chris Kresser—Chinese Medicine Demystified

And if that’s not enough, Read the whole book! Dao of Chinese Medicine by Donald Kendall

What is an Acupuncture Physician?

In the State of Florida, an Acupuncture Physician is a Physician who is licensed by the Florida Department of Health to practice Acupuncture. In case you’re wondering, all physicians are typically referred to as Doctor, as in, “Hi, I’m Dr. Shark.”

Medical licensing is regulated by the states, so the specific requirements for medical licenses vary from state to state.  Several states, such as Alabama, still do not have a licensure process to practice Acupuncture.

This definition brings up two questions:

  1. What is Acupuncture as defined by Florida law?
  2. What is required to receive this license?

First off, “Acupuncture” as defined by Florida includes a lot more than the practice of Acupuncture itself, which is essentially the insertion of very fine needles at specific locations in order to produce a physiological response which results in pain relief or the activation of healing.  In the state of Florida, Acupuncture means the entire system of Chinese Medicine. This includes diagnosis, nutrition, physical/orthopedic exam, herbal medicine, supplement prescription, rehabilitative exercise, intramuscular injection of non-drug substances (such as vitamins or saline), and the ordering and interpretation of lab tests and images (such as blood work or x-rays).  The primary difference between what a Medical Doctor (MD) and an Acupuncture Physician (AP) can do is that the MD can prescribe pharmaceutical drugs and an AP cannot.

What is responsible for this difference? It’s the focus of the medical training of each respective physician. Both MD’s and AP’s spend 4 years in medical school, with similar prerequisites for science education in undergrad. Both physicians study important subjects such as Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Pharmacology, Internal Medicine, Orthopedics, Dermatology, and External Medicine. But there is a major difference in the way these subjects are approached.

The driving force behind the difference in approach is the difference in treatment. Medical Doctors’ primary treatments are pharmaceutical drugs and surgery. Their diagnosis primarily directly restates the symptom (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, migraines) and seeks to find supporting markers on specific tests which indicate the need for medical interventions—because drugs and surgeries are designed to treat these single symptoms individually.  Acupuncture Physicians’ primary treatments are natural interventions that stimulate the healing process in the body either through activating a specific neurological response (Acupuncture) or by providing particular nutrients or substances (Herbal Medicine, Nutrition, Supplementation). As a result, MDs’ diagnostic processes tend to be more specific (focused on one abnormality at a time), and APs’ more holistic (focusing on the entire body or entire functional system).

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. In general, MD’s are unparalleled in their treatment of emergency conditions. Because of their specificity, they can quickly treat and control life-threatening occurrences like heart attack, inability to breath and major traumas. If the threat of death is imminent, the Emergency Room is probably the best place for you. But because of this focus on health problems as single, isolated events, conventional Medical Doctors are often unable to produce satisfactory results when it comes to conditions that are not immediately life threatening: chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, auto-immune disease and mood disorders. Some Medical Doctors are recognizing this failure and seeking additional training after medical school in a relatively new field called Functional Medicine (FM). An MD who practices Functional Medicine is striving to be far more holistic, though there is a lot of variance between practitioners since this holistic training is not required for their medical license. Though many FM doctors still tend toward their original training of single-problem focus, if you have a chronic condition and the option of choosing an MD trained in Functional Medicine over one trained only in the conventional system, definitely pick the FM doctor. They will be much more likely to consider effective non-drug approaches.


Acupuncture Physicians, on the other hand, are trained from the get-go to look at the body through a holistic lens, that is to say that they are analyzing how various systems fit together in order to determine the root of the malfunction.  Rather than zeroing in on a single symptom, such as nasal allergies or an abnormal lab result, AP’s are trained to look at really big picture indicators like digestive function, inflammation and constriction of tissues and blood vessels, detailed health history and the relationship between “physical” and “mental” disorders. This holistic approach gives AP’s the advantage when it comes to pain and chronic disorders. The reason is that chronic disorders are never isolated, single body-part events. They always involve multiple systems and evolve through complex mechanisms. If they didn’t, they would never become chronic; they would simply heal themselves or be quickly eradicated by a short-term problem-focused approach like those typically offered by an MD. And there is no drug on the market that corrects the neurological pain impulse the way that Acupuncture does. Pain medications merely dull or mask the pain in the hope that the body will get better on its own in the meantime. My friend Bob Doane puts it best, MD’s treat the symptom and hope the problem goes away; AP’s treat the problem and hope the symptom goes away.

I would be remiss if I didn’t address the frightening new practice of MD’s and Chiropractors (DC’s) performing Acupuncture in Florida. These practitioners are required to have little to no training in order to perform needling on their patients. I say needling, because they are really not practicing Acupuncture, which as we discussed is a specific holistic therapy; they are merely memorizing some symptom-focused protocols and applying them across the board.

Well, you say, I just have one problem. Why not just let my DC or MD do my Acupuncture? Their appalling lack of training, that’s why! An AP has about 3,000 hours of training and over 1,000 hours internship in the specific diagnostic system and needling technique which allows them to get results. MD’s are not required to be trained at all in order to perform needling, because their license already covers sticking needles in you! If they elect for membership in the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, they are required to have a whopping 220 hours of training, less than 1/10th of what an AP has. Chiropractors (DC’s) are only required to have 100 hours training to stick needles in you in Florida! This is crazy, folks. I would never let someone with so little training treat me. I certainly would never attempt to adjust your neck or perform an appendectomy when you come in for Acupuncture, and DC’s and MD’s shouldn’t be sticking needles in people and calling it Acupuncture.

The one disclaimer I will add to this article is that all of my explanations here are broad generalizations. I did this to simplify the explanation of different types of medical license. However, all doctors are people, and people are individuals with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. In every field there are excellent, qualified individuals who really do get the big picture and know what they’re doing. I have been educated and inspired by many Medical Doctors and Chiropractors through the years. While I’ve studied with a few really outstanding Acupuncture Physicians, I actually get most of my medical information from work done by exceptional MD’s and DC’s. Some of these doctors do have extensive training beyond those required by law or by certification boards. If you’re wondering about a doctor’s training and background—just make sure to ask; don’t assume they’re knowledgeable about a field that may be out of their area of expertise.

I hope I’ve given you a pretty good overview of what it means to be an Acupuncture Physician. I’m happy to answer questions left in the comments section. We’ll be starting up a video blog soon, so please leave your questions in the comments section. Once we get rolling, we’ll answer a question every week. Be well!

Gulf Coast Wellness Opening November 1!

We are so excited to announce the opening of our Pensacola clinic, located at 310 E Government St.—your new downtown Pcola location for Acupuncture, Nutrition, Herbal Medicine and Neuro-nutrient therapy!

Our site is currently under construction, so please pardon the mess. You can still find many of our posts by clicking around, and we should be fully functional soon. If you’re new to us, some great articles to start with are What to Expect at Your First Visit and Acupuncture Done Correctly Gets Results.

Feel free to check out the website for our San Francisco clinic at and Like us on Facebook for great health information and promotional opportunities.

We are so excited to be living and working here in Pensacola now. It’s a wonderful community with a real need for more natural healthcare practitioners. Thanks to everyone we’ve met for being so welcoming and helpful. We love it!

Be well,

Dr. Peter Shark, AP NNTS

Myths and Facts About Chinese Medicine III

Myth: Chinese Medicine is natural, so it’s hard to tell if it’s working or not

FACT:  When it’s working, you’ll know it!

People often think that natural = weak. It simply isn’t true. Acupuncture for pain will work within the first few treatments or it won’t work at all!

Now don’t get me wrong, you may need multiple treatments to get rid of the problem and keep it gone. However, you should be able to tell that it’s working by the fourth treatment at the latest. If you have been seeing an Acupuncturist for pain for more than four treatments and you can’t tell if it’s working or not, either try a different Acupuncturist or do something else. Pain conditions rarely respond later if they’re not responding at all in the beginning.

For chronic conditions, like fatigue, digestive problems, hormones, you should notice improvement within the first month. Again, it may take some follow-up to make sure the results stay after you discontinue treatment, but a proper treatment should have you obviously on the road to recovery.

In my clinic, if the patient is not 70% better in three months, we take a serious look at whether we’re doing the right thing and whether or not we should continue treating!

When was the last time you took a medication (other than anti-biotics) that truly fixed your underlying problem and had you 70% better in three months?

Do you have more questions/assumptions/ideas that you want to know about? Leave them in the comments section, and I’ll be sure to address them!

Know someone who thinks they know all about Chinese Medicine or wants to know more? Forward this article, or connect them to this site! Or better yet, share this on FaceBook or Twitter!

Read part I of this series

Read part II of this series

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 to expect at your first visit

Why the big exam? Why do I have to wait for Acupuncture? Can I get a treatment today?

While many Pensacola residents are interested in Acupuncture and generally favor it, people often confuse “natural” and “healthy” to mean ineffective or slow to produce results. At Gulf Coast Wellness, it is our mission to change the way people use Acupuncture. What is unique about us is that we do a thorough evaluation, formulate an individualized treatment plan and execute that plan using the most advanced treatment techniques available in order to get the results you deserve.

This approach puts a great burden on us to only accept patients we believe we can truly help. In many other Pensacola Acupuncture offices, you will walk in, spend 10 minutes explaining your issue (usually while lying on the treatment table) and immediately receive an Acupuncture treatment. “Great!” you say, “I want to get going right away.”

Admittedly it sounds good at first. Of course, you went to an Acupuncturist to get Acupuncture, so you’d want to get some Acupuncture right away. However, the most important step has been left out of this transaction, and that is proper evaluation and diagnosis. What if you went to the optometrist, and upon hearing that you are having trouble seeing things that are far away he promptly diagnoses you as near-sighted and writes a prescription. In some offices, you’d have your glasses in an hour or less. Hooray! Now you’ve quickly handled the matter of needing glasses. The problem is, no one checked to see if the actual prescription is correct for you. There were no tests run, so only a vague diagnosis was reached and not an actual thorough understanding of your problem.

This kind of problem presents especially often in Holistic Medicne. Holistic Medicine is incredibly individual. Its treatment strategies depend upon determining the underlying cause of an issue. This means that two people with identical complaints, for example migraines, may in fact have exactly opposite underlying causes and therefore opposite treatment approaches. This means that any new patient requires a bit of investigation before getting started.

In our clinic, we first pre-screen every patient. That is, you come in for a consultation with an Acupuncture Physician to first determine if the methods we use at Gulf Coast Wellness are entirely appropriate for you. If they are not, we promptly refer you to another practitioner who can adequately evaluate your condition. For example, I once had a patient come in with the chief complaint of shortness of breath. She felt that it was difficult to breathe. On face value, this is typically a problem that Acupuncture and Chinese herbs treat very well. Based on that, I recommended a full evaluation of her history and physical condition.

When I got to the physical exam, I listened to her lungs. In the vast majority of shortness of breath patients, there will be absolutely nothing physically wrong with the lungs that can be detected by any test, much less listening to lung sounds with a stethoscope. However, with such a complaint it is prudent to investigate every avenue. Upon listening (auscultation as we call it in medicine) I found that she had no breath sounds at all in her lower lobes. This is rather serious and indicates that the lower lobes are not involved in breathing for one reason or another—such as collapse or being filled with fluid. Based on her history I ventured a guess that it was probably fluid and promptly referred her to a pulmonologist to have the appropriate tests run. In fact, it was fluid, and it turned out that this patient had a very serious problem with her lymphatic system (your second circulatory system) that was causing her lungs to fill up. This was a surgical issue and out of my scope of practice. It also could have become life threatening very quickly. Due to the thorough exam, this patient’s life was probably saved.

So back to your first visit, this visit involves only two things: taking the pulse and talking. As an Acupuncture Physician, taking the pulse is my inside view on what is happening in your body. It tells me about the circulation in various areas of your body. Problems like not enough blood flow (blood deficiency), blood stuck in an area and not moving out normally, similar to a bruise or contusion (blood stasis), inflammation (heat) or constriction (cold) can all be detected in the pulse. The pulse taking often reveals issues that the patient has not even thought to mention. Then comes talking. This first visit involves just a simple interview. We will get the most basic facts about the problem that brought you in. The purpose is simply to come to one of two conclusions:
a. we can probably help you, and we are the best choice to treat this problem or
b. you will be better served by another approach.

We take our commitment to proper evaluation very seriously. You can absolutely rely on an honest and thorough opinion on your health issues and a clear directive of how to follow up for treatment.



Acknowledgements: I adapted the optometrist analogy from Brian Tracy’s The Art of Closing the Sale—he was using a medical example of misdiagnosis to explain sales, but I found that it fits medicine even better.