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 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

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 II

Myth: Qi is energy

Fact: There is absolutely no historical basis for the translation of the word Qi as energy!

This one tends to ruffle a lot of feathers, so let me be clear. I’m not making a statement as to whether or not there is energy in the body. I’m merely stating that the word Qi, as used in the Chinese Medical classics, does not and never has meant energy.

So what happened? Why does everyone in the West seem to believe that Chinese Medicine is based on invisible energy circulating through invisible pathways that we somehow magically stick needles into?

First you have to understand that these Chinese Medical Classics are literally 4,000 years old! The language in which they were written was basically pictograms. Nobody, except those with a PhD in ancient Chinese, can read these classics as written. Even Chinese people must study translations.

The problem is that most people who get PhD’s in Ancient Chinese don’t know much about medicine, and most people who know about medicine don’t read Ancient Chinese. This creates a serious problem in the translation of an ancient medical text.

It so happens that a French gentleman, George Soulie de Morant,  who didn’t know much about medicine attempted to translate the most important Chinese Medical Text ever, the Huang Di Nei Jing. And in this attempt, he made the two most influential mistranslations ever. He translated the word Qi as energy and the word Mai (blood vessel) as meridian.

As a result of this mistranslation, most Westerners, including almost everyone studying in Chinese Medical school in the West, is taught that Chinese Medicine is about energy flowing in meridians.

So if Qi isn’t energy and the term meridian doesn’t exist anywhere in the classics, then what is Chinese Medicine?

If you saw the character for Qi painted on a big sign in China today, do you know what that would mean?

It indicates that there is a station for putting air into your car tires!

Why? Because Qi just means air—every Chinese person know this! Nobody gets confused and pulls their car over hoping to get some energy injected into their meridians!

In the context of the medical classics, we know they meant to be a bit more specific. So what do the classics say about Qi? The direct translation of “qi” is “vital air.” The Huang Di Nei Jing says that Qi is invisible and all around us (air) and that it is breathed in by the Lungs and the vital parts of the air are extracted by the Lungs and sent to the Heart to be pumped all over the body inside the blood vessels (mai)!

In case you don’t remember your anatomy and physiology, they’re talking about Oxygen! The Chinese were incredibly concerned with the flow of Oxygen (Qi), Blood (Xue), Nutrients (ying) and Immune cells (Wei) inside the Blood Vessels (mai) and Lymph system (jing ye) as well as with the functioning of each of the major organs (zang fu).

What this amazing revelation means is that rather than being concerned with some kind of psychic energy, Chinese Medicine is actually a PHYSICAL medicine which is primarily concerned with blood flow!

I’ve likely offended many devotees of Chinese Medicine who strongly believe in the energy and meridian concept. In reality, most Acupuncturists have only studied textbooks and never studied any of the what the classics actually say. And the amazing thing is that this difference in belief does not necessarily change the application of Acupuncture treatment. The difference is that with the circulation/blood vessel/anatomically based explanation, we suddenly realize that Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture are actually NOT in conflict with Western ideas or anatomy and physiology. The Chinese actually explained vital concepts thousands of years ago that were just “discovered” in the West a couple of hundred years ago. As soon as we let go of the mystical idea, we are free to see all of the commonalities that Chinese Medicine has with the modern Western approach.

The Huang Di Nei Jing describes such (at the time) unknown wonders such as the closed blood circulation system, hormones, the immune function of the intestines (just being corroborated in very recent research), the digestive function of the pancreas, referred pain patterns from organs (such as gallbladder pain referring to the scapula and heart pain referring down the arm). I could go on and on!

The best source for more information on this topic is a book called The Dao of Chinese Medicine. This book, with its seemingly mystical title, lays it all out in incredibly well-researched black and white. It was published by Oxford University Press, which is not some little alternative press looking to overthrow the dominant paradigm! It is a solid, valid piece of work at finally de-mystifying the medicine that continues to help millions around the globe.

Read Part I 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:

Happiness Forum

This video has inspired me to start a happiness community here on the Wood Tiger Acupuncture Blog. It suggests five simple things that, when done daily for 21 days, have a measurable impact on your happiness AND your brain function!

Take the 21 day happiness challenge with us, and join us in the discussion!

What to do:

1. Watch the video

2. Write down the 5 suggestions

3. Get a notebook or journal to record each of the 5 things daily

4. Start! And start posting your comments here!
The official start date is March 12th, but feel free to start getting happy now!

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.

Natural Treatment for Depression without Antidepressants

Even here in health-crazed San Francisco, many people suffer from anxiety and depression or other problems with their mood. If you watch TV for even an hour, you’ll quickly find the solution—antidepressants! And if antidepressants don’t work, don’t stop taking them, just add an antipsychotic, like Seroquel or Abilify. Or add more antidepressants!

Now maybe you believe that antidepressants are a good idea. Maybe you believe they are safe and effective. In fact, problems from heart disease to increased risk of death from suicide have been associated with antidepressants, so much so that for the latter, the FDA has mandated a black box warning on all SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), the most common form of antidepressant. Now you may be thinking, “A black box warning doesn’t sound all that serious.”

Actually, it is the most serious action the FDA will take apart from completely removing a drug from market. The FDA almost never does this. Even a drug like Vioxx that was clearly killing people was actually removed by the manufacturer. What did the FDA do? It required a black box warning.

What this warning means is that this medication is clearly dangerous, but it may show some sort of therapeutic value—or that it cannot be proven that it shows absolutely no therapeutic value and the government would lose its shirt trying to defend such “libelous” claims. It’s supposed to be your doctor’s job to very carefully monitor the risk-benefit analysis in your particular case. The problem is, they often don’t know of another solution, so they believe the only two options are prescribing the medication or forcing you to remain in a state that is making you miserable and ineffective. They also tend to lack an understanding of the seriousness of the side-effects. To understand how the data on these drugs get skewed watch this amazing TED talk:

In order to understand the alternative, we must understand what mood disorders really are. First of all, mood disorders are not mental illness. Mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or true bipolar, are completely different from mood disorders and may require medication for management. Mood disorders are merely an imbalance of the current brain chemistry. To be more specific, they are a deficit in one or more of the following neurotransmitters (brain chemicals): Serotonin, Norepinephrine, GABA, Endorphin or Glucose (technically not a neurotransmitter but it has a huge impact on brain function).

These deficiencies are rooted in nutritional deficiencies that sometimes take many years to compound into an issue with the mood. “But,” you say, “I eat really well. I avoid meat and saturated fat. I shop at Trader Joe’s.”

So many of us have reduced meat and fat to get healthy, others have cut calories to lose weight. Sometimes we just settle for food out of box or can, because we’re busy or we don’t know how to cook. These strategies all have proponents telling us we should do this, or it’s okay to do that, but the soaring trend of anxiety and depression tell a different story. They tell a story of chronic undernourishment, in particular of protein deficiency.

Neurotransmitters are made by the body out of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Without protein, we have no amino acids. Without amino acids, we have no neurotransmitters. Without the right levels of neurotransmitters, we have what Julia Ross, author of The Mood Cure, calls “false moods.” These are moods that do not represent the real you or your true personality. These moods can make you irritable, down, stressed, angry, even suicidal. They can cause you turn to sweets, alcohol, drugs or behaviors that give you a temporary boost. They manifest in different ways for different people, but the main thing to remember is that they are not “you,” and they can be fixed.

So if the problem is nutritional, then the solution is also nutritional. What’s the secret? Primarily it is protein. Adequate protein is absolutely essential for proper brain function. However, if you already have a problem with your mood (or with eating behavior, alcohol or drugs) the deficiency is probably too great to correct just by correcting the food you put into your mouth. Your brain will need a big dose of these amino acids all at once, and the best way to accomplish this is through supplementation.

Isolated amino acids are given in supplement form (usually capsules or sublingual tablets) in order to boost brain production of your neurotransmitters. Taking amino acids is the ONLY way to accomplish this. SSRI’s don’t do it; they merely keep the chemicals already in your brain from being reabsorbed; this is one reason they don’t work for many people. For a somewhat slow and cheesy but informative video on this look here:

With 1 in 10 Americans taking antidepressants, this information could be revolutionary. In my clinic, we’ve treated numerous patients who either want to get off antidepressants or want to avoid getting on them in the first place. The results with the amino acid therapy are almost unbelievable. Before studying with Julia Ross, I had no idea that there was an effective alternative for treating anxiety and depression. I struggled with only getting marginal results with many of my own patients. Since learning this amazing treatment, I can’t believe that it’s been kept such a secret, and I want to bring hope to all of those people out there who are looking for some alternative to their current treatment approach. There is hope, and you can get better!

The most amazing thing about amino acid therapy, and the main reason I chose to become certified as a specialist in it, is that it is a corrective therapy. This means that a course of treatment can correct the deficiency so that you no longer need to take the supplement. As you may have guessed, correcting the diet will be necessary for permanent results. But can you imagine, after years of depression, becoming depression and supplement-free in a matter of months? I’ve seen it, and it is amazing.

The other advantage amino acid therapy has over drugs is that it has no side-effects. Or to be more correct, if you have a side-effect the therapy is immediately altered to eliminate it. In holistic medicine, a side-effect is seen as a signal that your body does not agree with the treatment. A medicine that is designed to fix your system, should not create such a response from your body. The only thing you should feel is better.

This is a very short summary of a very complicated issue, so if you’d like to read more I’ve included several resources below. My clinic, Wood Tiger Acupuncture, in San Francisco is always happy to consult on this topic. We also are gladly accepting new patients for this therapy, and we offer a free consultation to determine if the therapy is appropriate for you before beginning. You can try to self-treat using Julia Ross’ books, but I have seen very limited results with that approach. I think it’s just too difficult to trouble-shoot your own brain chemistry, especially if you haven’t had intensive training on the subject.

Acknowledgements: Julia Ross has been the pioneer in this field. She has spent many years refining her treatment approach, and I have been so lucky to study directly with her on this topic.


Antidepressant statistics:

FDA black box warning:

Celexa  and heart disease:

Antidepressant withdrawal:

Antidepressants don’t work: excellent video—as seen on Dr. Oz

Serious side-effects:

For information on how doctors are influenced by drug companies:

There are so many more resources. Several books could be written on this topic without scratching the surface, but the best ones currently out there are:

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.