"Hi, do you take MassHealth?" "Does MassHealth cover Acupuncture?"
These are questions we get allll the time here in clinic, and we usually have to go through a lot of back and forth to help patients understand their benefits. The short answer is, yes and no.
"MassHealth" is a term that many people use interchangeably for the insurance plans offered through the MA Health Connector, such as Allways, Tufts, BMC Health Net, and Neighborhood Health Plan. Many of those plans actually DO have some coverage for acupuncture, which is wonderful. Insurance coverage for acupuncture can vary widely between plans, even though they might be through the same company, so we have to verify each individual's policy prior to starting treatment.
Unfortunately, in Massachusetts, Medicare and Medicaid do NOT cover acupuncture at all. MassHealth Standard (the blue card) says it covers acupuncture, but the way the policy is written, they will only pay medical doctors for it. Even though the policy covers acupuncture, does not require a referral, and by MA law, acupuncture can be performed by a Licensed Acupuncturist without MD supervision, they will not pay an acupuncturist for acupuncture. There are various groups who have been working to change this for years now, but so far, no luck. For these patients, we typically try to refer them to a hospital based acupuncture program that might be funded by philanthropy, and therefore lower cost.
It's a sad reality that the healthcare system has become driven by the almighty dollar. Premiums and deductibles are at an all time high, while fewer and fewer services are covered. It's now more important than ever to invest in your own health and wellness, to prevent catastrophic illness and chronic pain in the future! We remain committed to being one of the few acupuncturists in the Boston area who take insurance, but it's such a shame that MassHealth Standard patients can't access their benefits!
“What made you decide to become an acupuncturist?”
A lot of my colleagues love to share their stories, the journeys that led them on the path of becoming an acupuncturist. Sometimes it has to do with their own healing through Chinese medicine, or the illness of a loved one. Sometimes it’s a spiritual calling to help others. Sometimes it’s just a natural progression of being a kombucha-swilling hippie who breaks out in hives at the thought of an office job.
The truth is, I have always HATED being asked this question. I usually deflect it and change the subject, while silently thinking, “Do you ask your accountant what made her decide to become a bean counter?”
But...I started to wonder WHY I always felt vexed when someone asks me this question.
Some of it has to do with the fact that I tend to be a little private, and I try hard to maintain good boundaries with patients. Your session is about YOU, and I don’t want to spend our time talking about me. Some of it has been that I really don’t have a dramatic story of profound healing and messages from my guides to go forth and heal the world, so what’s there to tell?
Well, here it is, friends....here’s the story.
What I REALLY wanted to be was a damn DOCTOR.
The first answer I ever had as a child to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was DOCTOR. My mother started nursing school when I was about 3 years old, and I can remember pouring over her textbooks for the years she was in school. The family joke was that she never had to have the birds and the bees conversation with me, because I had gotten hold of one of her OB/GYN books and looked up at her and said in horror, “OH. That’s where babies come from.”
Despite my passion for medicine and having started studying anatomy & physiology before kindergarten, it would turn out that medical school wasn’t in the cards for me, for a variety of reasons. I tried to make peace with it, and even though I had shifted my focus and completed undergrad school in an entirely different field, that drive and desire never totally left me. I tried a number of different things to try and quench that thirst. I completed my training as an Emergency Medical technician at Northeastern University. I took classes in psychology at UMass Boston, exploring the idea of becoming a therapist. Finally I gave it one last all out, and enrolled in the post-baccalaureate pre-med program at Harvard University.
You guys, I failed Physics.
I’ve never worked so hard and failed so miserably at anything in my entire life. It was clear to me that medical school wasn’t happening for me.
I was about 27 at this point, and was totally floundering. I considered joining the Marines. I took the exam to become a firefighter. I became a manager at the restaurant I had been waitressing at, and sunk into a bit of a self loathing, aimless depression.
Restaurant management is a tough job as it is, but it’s made all the more difficult when the head chef regularly goes on cocaine fueled tirades that terrify the staff. One night, his temper tantrum was aimed at me. It was a Saturday night and the place was packed. I forget what set him off, but he absolutely exploded. He tore off his apron, threw it on the ground, and stormed out, leaving me to man the saute station in a suit and heels for the rest of the dinner rush.
The next day, he gave me a half-hearted apology and a gift certificate to the shiatsu school clinic down the street. I didn’t buy his act for a second, but the shiatsu session was AMAZING. On the way out, I picked up a brochure for a year long class in Ayurvedic medicine that they were hosting. I signed up and fell immediately in LOVE. A year later, having completed the program, there was just one problem...there were no licensing standards for Ayurveda in the U.S., so if I actually wanted to be a practitioner, I’d have to get a license in something else.
As I weighed my options, I settled on acupuncture school. Although the New England School of Acupuncture was nearby, I didn’t love their curriculum. I had also just gone through some major personal upheaval. I found myself on the outs with all 3 of my best friends, and broke up with my boyfriend, who then proceeded to stalk me. Time to get the hell outta Dodge. I quickly settled on Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and packed my bags. See ya later Boston, San Diego here I come!
PCOM was an incredible experience and I’m SO glad I chose their program, but Southern California just wasn’t for me. Not enough foul weather and traffic, I guess! I came back to Boston 2 days after my last exam, and nearly 20 years later, here I am, with a thriving acupuncture clinic on the South Shore. Today, I’m grateful that I’m NOT an MD, because I have so much joy and freedom by NOT being being a practitioner entrenched in the mainstream medical model. Every single day I walk into my clinic, I get to create exactly the life I want, the way I want to.
So, there you have it. Failing physics and having a screaming match with a narcissistic cocaine addicted chef is what made me decide to become an acupuncturist.
It’s March in New England, and that means the weather can go from spring thaw to thundersnow in 24 hours or less. Here in Quincy, we got about 18” of heavy snow overnight this past Monday. That morning was a beautiful, bright winter landscape, and it was warm enough to make shoveling out almost pleasant, but…
It’s now two days later. Every muscle in my body hurts and I’m so fatigued it was a struggle to get out of bed today.
Now, I’m no delicate flower here. For most of my life, I’ve been genetically blessed with vibrant health. I’ve run 5 marathons and set records in my age and weight class as a competitive powerlifter, all after the age of 40, so strength and endurance are not something I generally lack.
So what gives??
Well, I often joke that I’ve had to admit to myself that I’m not 25 anymore. As I creep up on 50, I can’t really hide from the aging process, but it’s something more than just getting older. It’s something that’s really far worse.
I haven’t been taking care of myself.
Now, I generally bristle at the whole “self care” pablum that’s been floating around the media for some time now. For me, all the shallow recommendations you see out there about mani-pedis, bath bombs and essential oils, with pictures of white women laughing at salad while wearing $100 yoga pants smack of frivolity and privilege. The way the media presents “self care” is a whole other rant I could go on, but that’s for another day.
The thing is, self care IS truly important.
Over the last 5 years, I’ve had a lot on my plate. (Don’t we all?) Stress, working nonstop, people and events that, in the moment, take precedence over my own immediate needs have all slowly taken their toll on the healthy habits that were once at the center of my life.
I’m feeling the effects for sure. Weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, poor digestion...the list goes on. This is all new to me, and I don’t like it one bit! Once I realized what was happening, I sat down and thought about how my habits were different five years ago, when I felt healthy, fit, and mentally clear. Wow, have I gotten off track!
It seems that as we get older, and our lives grow more complicated and hectic, that we put ourselves on the back burner in favor of “more important things.” Everyone else needs us to be there for them...children, aging parents, colleagues, and responsibilities. It seems almost silly or selfish to spend the time, money and energy on this mythical “self care” everyone’s always on about.
Here’s the thing though…
As we age, it becomes even MORE important to take the time to do these things. In or 40’s and 50’s is when things start to break down. Disease processes begin, aches & pains from old injuries start to surface, and we aren’t quite as resiliant as we used to be. NOW is the time to invest in ourselves, and create a “care team” that you can rely on to make a plan to be healthy and well. This is something that goes beyond your yearly visit to your primary care doctor. “Wellness” is not just the absence of physical disease, it’s being in OPTIMAL health, mind, body and spirit. When we reach this stage of your lives, it’s important to create a plan to keep ourselves well, and a team to help you implement it and stay on track.
If you want to preserve your health and to be able to use your body well for your whole lifetime, you need to stop problems BEFORE they start, and that means taking time to do the things that keep you healthy. Regular acupuncture, hypnosis, body work and nutrition should all be a part of your preventative medicine.
Where have you neglected your own self care? What things are your non-negotiables in terms of taking time for yourself?
As an acupuncturist and hypnotherapist in a large city like Quincy, just outside of Boston, I see a wide variety of issues come through my door. What I’ve learned in nearly 20 years of practice, is that when a patient comes in with what may seem on the surface to be a simple issue, many times we need to dig deeper, and find the hidden blocks that are contributing to that problem and preventing that patient from making progress.
Recently I have been working with a patient around using hypnotherapy to break some unhealthy addictive habits. While hypnosis is tremendously effective at correcting negative thought patterns and behaviors, it’s not always the miraculous overnight success it’s made out to be in the movies. For many patients, it can take between 4-6 sessions, and if what we are working on is a particularly stubborn, lifelong pattern, we may need to add other treatments like acupuncture, herbs, meditation, behavior modification, and spiritual work.
This particular patient is progressing toward her goal, but more slowly than she’d like. She’s frustrated that this particular bad habit is so tough to break, and mentioned that she felt like a “loser” that she’s been unable, after only 2 sessions, to put a stop to this habit altogether. Coming in for a third session, I asked how things had gone over the past week, and was greeted with a “Meh.” She was once again feeling really down that she had been unable to 100% eliminate this behavior, and she was beating herself up so badly that she’d not noticed that she had made a TON of healthy progress in identifying the triggers for the behavior, using other strategies to cope with these triggers, and that she’d actually made a lot of progress toward reaching her goals in only TWO SESSIONS.
This really made my heart hurt for her. Here she was, working SO HARD to create change in her life, and she was so frustrated, that she was only able to see the parts where she’d stumbled. She was so focused on the moments when she’d “blown it” that she was unable to see her overall successes and progress toward her goals, and this outlook was only serving to reinforce the negative behavior.
Think about it for a minute. If you had a child who was a poor student...let’s say they got all D’s last quarter, and this quarter, they had worked really hard and brought home a report card with C’s on it, would you berate them for not having straight A’s, or would you congratulate them on their improvement thus far, and encourage them to do even better this time around? If you were to tell that child that they are capable of success and that they’re great at working hard, then they’ll internalize that they ARE a hard worker with great potential. If you were to tell that child that the C’s weren’t good enough, and clearly they were either lazy, irresponsible or stupid for not bringing home all A’s, then you’ve just programmed them to see themselves through exactly that lens.
We all screw up. We all blow it sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that we’re terrible people and it damn sure doesn’t mean that we throw in the towel and just give up. Think about it...If you went out right now and saw that you had one flat tire on your car, would you go and slash the other three? Would you just shrug your shoulders and have it towed to the junkyard?
Is there a time and a place for tough love? Absolutely, but tough love needs to come from a place of positivity. Shaming and berating is an entirely different matter. If you wouldn’t talk to a child the way you speak to yourself in your own inner voice, you should probably take a close look at learning to reframe your narrative.
What tone of voice do you speak to yourself in? What negative internal messages can you let go of RIGHT NOW to make space for more gentle nurturing of your true potential?
Over the next several weeks, I'll be working with Denise Jarvie's The Secret Language of Light deck to deliver intuitive messages for your contemplation. Take what serves you, and leave the rest! If you'd like to pick a card for next week's reading, follow us on Instagram for the next Intuition Friday post on 2/22/2019!
There Is Only Light
“Darkness is just an absence of light”
Allow lightness and ease to enter, and release your attachment to struggle, to chaos, to darkness. When we open our eyes and clear the way for the light to flood into our hearts, we flow into the fullness of our soul’s purpose effortlessly, and this naturally drives out the dark, the illusions, and the negativity.
What darkness in your life, can you release today? For whom are you dimming your light? What would it mean for you to shine with the brightness of your whole being?
“Tune in to the soundtrack of life”
Music is made of frequency and vibration. Both the physical and etheric body either resonate in tune with nature, or sound the alarm in discord when we are out of alignment. We each have the ability to connect with our own Soul Song, and when we do so, we are in perfect concert with the universe. In what ways do silence yourself? How can you sing your heart song with truth and abandon?
“The light that supports desire and inspires action”
The masculine moves forward with decisive action. Protector and provider. Ever analytical, this part of our Selves sets emotion aside to take stock of what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change. Meditate on what YOU see as archetypical male energy. In what way do you need to take action right now? Where in your life could you benefit from a father figure? What could you heal or move past by being a good father to yourself?
Summary: Sound and Vision
This week the message is clear. Turn your volume up, allow yourself to shine and illuminate your world, and charge into action with energy and clarity. Banish any dark, negative influences, sing your truth with boundless abandon, and move forward!
Over the next several weeks, I'll be working with Denise Jarvie's The Secret Language of Light deck to deliver intuitive messages for your contemplation. Take what serves you, and leave the rest! If you'd like to pick a card for next week's reading, follow us on Instagram for the next Intuition Friday post on 2/15/2019!
“Travel at your own speed of light”
What are the limiting beliefs that may be holding you back from expanding into your fullest potential with ease and grace? Our inner world creates our outer reality. You don’t have to compete or keep up with anyone else’s pace, but you DO need to take your own action, and open yourself to your own truth. The messages that you have been programmed with in the past, are not who you are today. There is nothing standing in your way.
“Tune in to your soul voice.”
It is time to open yourself to expanded intuition and consciousness. Pay attention to those “gut feelings’, and develop your awareness and sensitivity by keeping a dream journal and meditating. Allow your consciousness to begin to channel the messages that the universe has for you.
“The differing perceptions of Ego and Soul”
Where are you in need of more alignment? In what areas of your life has Ego taken over, leading you to keep doing what you “ought” to do? In many ways, we allow Ego to tell us that we have to do certain things, in a certain way, at a certain time, to live up to our own expectations or the expectations of others. Meanwhile, our Soul is crying out with a need to be nourished and nurtured. Turn off all the external, Ego-driven influences and STOP. Listen to what your Soul is telling you. What do you need to do or stop doing to fully integrate, and resonate with your Soul’s higher purpose?
Those who know me well, know that I LOVE my work, and I am ALWAYS either studying medicine or working on the admin and marketing aspect of running a busy Acupuncture clinic. I thrive on working long hours and I will admit to being “just a little” Type A. I like taking charge of my life and my business, and over the last five years, I have built a thriving Acupuncture and holistic health clinic and excellent reputation by being in control of 99% of every aspect of my business.
The 1% that I was NOT in control of was my physical, brick and mortar space. Over the last five years, I have watched as my original location in East Boston evolved. Massive real estate development and construction, noise, heavy traffic and lack of parking became a major disruptor for every business and household in the area. Commuting from my home in Quincy to my clinic was not making things easier, but…..I still wasn’t really looking to relocate.
A couple of weeks ago, an unexpected set of circumstances set some wheels in motion. My world turned upside down, literally overnight. The Universe had spoken! It was time to move and to grow. In 48 hours I went from business as usual, to a completely new Acupuncture clinic in Quincy Center!
This is a HUGE deal, for a lot of reasons.
This move meant coming up with much more capital, taking on more overhead, and to a certain extent, starting over. It is only a difference of 7 miles, but with Boston traffic, that can become a 90 minute drive. It also meant that I’d be taking the month of July off (with no income), as the new space won’t be officially ready until August 1st.
While moving my clinic was a challenging choice to make, it was not the most important one.
The moment I signed the new lease, I was faced with a choice. I could choose to panic and be fraught with anxiety over the change, and angered about the circumstances that were out of my control and that had led me here. This is the type of reaction that would usually lead to not just negative emotions, but could also have implications on one’s physical health. Insomnia, muscle tension, heart palpitations, tension headaches, and “knots in your stomach” are all physical manifestations of stress, anxiety, and anger.
Spending a month panicking and stewing didn’t seem too appealing, so I made a different choice.
You see, the only thing you truly can control in the world, are your own actions and RE-actions. You are in control of your own perceptions of the events in your life. So, what did I do?
I chose to embrace the risk. Instead of being worried about increasing my overhead by more than 50%, I chose to get excited about having a larger space that could accommodate 100% more patients! Instead of worrying about my existing patient base not following me for Acupuncture in Quincy, I was thrilled with the possibilities of being able to become more involved and invested in the community in which I live. I was never able to do that while commuting to and working in Boston 5 days a week. Instead of experiencing those negative physical symptoms I mentioned above, I’ve woken up every day bursting with enthusiasm, creativity, and a sense of peace that this move to Quincy is going to be the best decision I’ve ever made.
This is more than just “looking on the bright side” though. To override the natural reaction of fear and anxiety takes training and effort. I’ve studied stoic philosophy and meditation for years now, and I suggest that anyone facing a potentially negative situation that they can’t control, to consider the following strategy:
First make a list of anything about the situation that IS in your control. Don’t take action just yet, just make the list.
Sit in a quiet area. Take a few deep breaths, and consider what the absolute WORST outcome to the situation could be. Feel how terrible it would be. What would happen, and how would you handle it and move forward? It may seem counterintuitive to focus on the negative, but this exercise is how I have successfully inocculated myself against adversity. It is the way to cultivate fearlessness.
Next, close your eyes and visualize what the BEST POSSIBLE outcome could be. Imagine every minute detail of a successful conclusion to the situation. You have to get very specific! Really FEEL that in your body. Do a scan and see what physical and emotional sensations you are experiencing.
For me, I saw the sun beaming through the windows, happy patients in all of the treatment rooms, getting treatment with acupuncture, cupping, massage and hypnosis, green plants in the waiting room, and a full event calendar of workshops and classes. My body felt relaxed and energized. Emotionally I felt peaceful, happy, and most importantly, free.
Now, compare these two outcomes, consider the list of what you are in control of, and only after should you decide on a course of action.
My mantra as I wait to reopen my business will be:
I embrace unexpected change and new opportunity. I am resilient and resourceful.. I possess great power and and ability to weather any storm, and to create abundance from adversity.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), summer is the season of the Fire element - a time of busy activities, growth, warmth and joy. This season rules the Heart, Pericardium, Small Intestine and San Jiao meridians. Here in Quincy, MA, most everyone looks forward to summer, and relief from our often brutal winters, but sometimes...Summer can be a little TOO...well, summer-y.
We’re in the midst of a heatwave and coming up on the 4th of July holiday right now. This usually means beach time, barbecues, beer, ice cream, fried seafood from our favorite clam shacks, (I’m planning to head over to Wollaston Beach for some fried clams as soon as I finish writing this!) and other indulgences. While we all LOVE these things, sometimes, they can throw us out of balance. Too much time in the sun, alcohol, fried, greasy, sugary or cold foods can leave us overheated, fatigued, and experiencing headaches, indigestion, reflux, or other gastrointestinal issues. In TCM we have a term for this is “Summer-Heat-Damp,” and we use certain herbal medicines and nutritional strategies to combat this!
The Watermelon & Feta Salad recipe below is one of my go-to favorites for summer barbecues and pot-lucks. It’s a perfect dish to serve or bring to a party when you want to have something healthy on hand, but don’t want to seem like the clean eating police.
One of the first foods we think of in TCM for the summer season is watermelon. Watermelon is cooling, hydrating, and naturally sweet. We also add a healthy dose of fresh mint, which is also cooling, and is naturally soothing for any tummy troubles. This is a super simple recipe that you can make in minutes. You can adjust any of the ratios of the ingredients to your personal taste preferences. Try our recipe below and let us know how you like it
Watermelon & Feta Salad
One whole seedless watermelon, chilled, cubed, and drained.
½ a red onion, diced (optional)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil depending on taste
Juice of 2-3 limes
1 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped, save a few full sprigs to use as garnish
1-2 cups crumbled feta cheese, depending on how much cheese you like
Salt & pepper to taste
Remove rind from watermelon and cut into cubes. Drain excess juice so your salad isn’t soupy! You can save the juice to add to sparkling water or summer cocktails, if you wish.
To create your dressing, blend the olive oil, lime juice, salt & pepper in a small bowl or jar.
In a large bowl, combine waterrmelon, feta, mint, red onion (if you use it) and dressing and gently toss. Garnish with a few mint sprigs to make it pretty and serve!
I am asked this question by almost every new patient, and it’s a great question…...that has no real definitive answer!
Acupuncture is a cumulative process, meaning that each subsequent treatment builds upon the work done previously. The amount of treatments needed varies by the individual and condition being treated. For example, low back pain in a 22 year old athlete who has an acute sports injury will respond much differently than chronic low back pain in a 72 year old with arthritis and degenerative disc disease.
For some patients, their condition may completely resolve in 1-3, or 3-6 treatments. For others, they may have a course of 12 weekly treatments, and then begin to taper off their visits to maybe every two weeks, once a month, and then they may discontinue treatment, and only come in when they have a flare up of symptoms. Finally, there are patients with chronic, degenerative conditions that may never completely resolve, but regular acupuncture treatment helps them manage their chronic pain and other symptoms, so that perhaps they are able to use less medication, stay more active and experience a better quality of life.
So, to try to really answer the question of “How many treatments will I need?”, I always tell patients, to give it at least 3-6 treatments to see significant results, but YOU are the best judge of what is working for YOU, because you live in your body, and I don’t. I am here to work with you as a team to collaborate with you and help you achieve optimum health!
Many parents have questions about the use of melatonin supplements for children who have difficulty sleeping. It is very easy to get wrong information off of the internet, and even many doctors are ill-informed about the use of dietary supplements, and they themselves sometimes fall prey to the idea of, “well, it’s natural, so it must be safe.”
In the case of melatonin, this is not necessarily the case. I advocate the use of caution and restraint with regard to the use of melatonin for children. Let’s take a look at the facts.
Melatonin is a chemical secreted from an area in our brains known as the pineal gland. Once released, it enters our bloodstream where it can often behave as a hormone, acting on different parts of the body. Although melatonin is now understood to have a wide variety of effects on our bodies, it is perhaps best known outside the medical community for its influence on our so-called circadian rhythms and sleep cycles.
When melatonin begins to circulate in increased amounts in our bodies, it can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle by triggering drowsiness, decreasing appetite, lowering body temperature, and acting to trigger other physiologic changes associated with sleep. Daylight helps regulate this cycle: photoreceptors in our eyes, in response to daylight (or more specifically, in response to a particular type of blue light that’s found within daylight) signal the brain to decrease release of melatonin. At nighttime, without the influence of daylight to keep melatonin levels at bay, larger amounts of this substance can be secreted, carrying the potential to lead to increasing drowsiness. It should be noted, however, that recent research has begun to suggest that melatonin actually has a much smaller effect on our sleep/wake cycle than previously predicted.
Despite the general pop culture belief that taking melatonin supplements (often used in doses of 2-3mg) will help cure insomnia and sleep-related disorders, the actual data is far less conclusive. A 2006 study for instance, failed to show a benefit for using melatonin to treat secondary sleep disorders – i.e. sleep issues triggered by jet lag, shiftwork, etc. Furthermore, the FDA has not approved the use of melatonin as a drug, instead categorizing it as a dietary supplement. This means that that the bottle of melatonin on sale behind the counter in a convenience store lacks the rigorous safety testing or regulation as, for instance, the bottle of aspirin sitting next to it.
Not only is the safety of long-term use of melatonin uncertain, there are also some definite (and significant) side effects that are already known about this supplement. For instance, melatonin can disrupt with our sexual functions, by interfering with the portion of the brain that secretes luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. These hormones are critical in both men and women for regulation of sperm production, ovulation, libido, and other sexual functions. Other known side effects of melatonin use can include nausea, irritation, and potentially dangerous drops in blood pressure.
Of great concern to me is the phenomenon of hormonal down regulation. Simply stated, when you supplement the body’s hormones either long term or in excessive amounts, your body becomes desensitized to that hormone, and possibly begins to stop producing it on it’s own. This is what is happening when I hear parents say “We started Johnny on 2mg of melatonin and now we’re up to 6mg! It works great! He’s been on it for years now, he can’t sleep without it. It’s totally natural, so it’s fine!” This is an example of how long term, over supplementation of melatonin can have an adverse effect on the body’s natural chemistry.
Should you decide to use melatonin as a sleep aid for your child, use the lowest dose possible, and for the shortest period of time possible. I would consider this the last resort before pharmacological intervention. As a well informed parent with all the facts in front of you, you will make the the best choice for your family.
So – what are “essential fatty acids”? What’s the buzz about Omega 3’s?
First, let’s take a step back and explain what fatty acids themselves are. Fatty acids in general are basic molecules used in lots of different places in our bodies. They can be used for instance, as energy and fuel sources, as structural components in cells and proteins, and to assist in digestion, in addition to many other uses. Our bodies can make lots of these fatty acids on their own, but some types have to be acquired from the environment in foods that we eat. These are what we call Essential Fatty Acids.
Essential fatty acids exist in a few varieties, but so far only two are currently thought to be required for humans. These are the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are perhaps the most commonly known, and this is what we’ll be looking at for the rest of this discussion.
Omega-3 fatty acids fall under the category of polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs. There are actually three separate types of omega-3 fatty acids seen in human physiology. The first, alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA is found in plants. Sources of this type of omega-3 fatty acid include seeds such as chia, flax and soybeans (the full list is much longer).
The other two forms of omega-3 fatty acids are found in marine sources. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is often seen in cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, bluefish and sardines. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is found in fish as well, including cod liver, herring, salmon, and mackerel. While these acids can of course be ingested by eating fish, they are also available in a variety of supplemental products, such as fish oil gelatin tablets.
Many studies show that omega-3s can be beneficial in the treatment of chronic health complaints including asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, ADHD, and autoimmune diseases, such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
So what role do omega 3-fatty acids play in the treatment of pain and disease, or in overall health maintenance?
"All these diseases have a common genesis in inflammation," says Joseph C. Maroon, MD, professor and vice chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Omega-3's reduce the inflammatory process in the body that leads to many chronic conditions.
Studies from the University of Michigan show that fish oil significantly diminishes the production and effectiveness of various prostaglandins, naturally occurring hormone-like substances that can accentuate inflammation and thrombosis.
In another controlled study of the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega-3s by Dr. Maroon, the results showed that compared to ibuprofen, omega-3 EFAs demonstrated equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain. Sixty percent of the participants in the study reported improvement in their pain levels, and no side effects were reported. Omega-3 EFA fish oil supplements appear to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of nonsurgical neck or back pain.
In short, Omega-3 fatty acids have the effect of reducing inflammatory processes in the body. They are a beneficial supplement for management of chronic pain and certain diseases, and are also a valuable tool in preventative wellness care. I recommend choosing a high quality fish oil, tested for purity and free from contaminants, such as Standard Process Cod Liver Oil, or Tuna Omega 3 Oil. As always, consult with your healthcare practitioner before adding any new supplements, and feel free to contact me with any questions!
It's officially fall, and cold and flu season is right around the corner. Many patients ask me what they can do in addition to their regular Acupuncture treatments, to stay healthy. Here's a few easy tips!
Drink Enough Water
Water makes up nearly 60% of your body weight, and is critical to a healthy immune system. Proper hydration helps all of your body’s systems function at optimum levels. Drinking adequate amounts of water will help your body’s own, natural detoxification systems function at peak efficiency, and help carry nutrients to your cells. Sugary or caffeinated liquids do not count toward the basic requirement of 64 ounces of per day. If it’s hot out or if you’ve been exercising, increase your water intake. If you find it difficult to drink plain water, spice things up with a wedge of lemon, slices of cucumber, mint leaves, or even a couple sliced strawberries for flavor.
Get Enough Sleep
When sleep suffers, the immune system suffers. Studies show that when you are sleep deprived, our levels of T-cells go down, and inflammatory cytokines go up, leading to an increased risk of contracting colds, flu, and other illnesses. Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep a night, and if you are among millions of chronically sleep-deprived Americans, try to get yourself a little extra sleep one night a week.
Get a Massage
A recent clinical study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that a single massage will significantly decrease the body’s levels of stress hormones, and increase the body’s production of cells that boost the immune response. Seriously, who doesn’t love a great massage therapy session?
Among the many ways chronic stress can wreck your overall health, it lowers the immune response and makes you more susceptible to catching every little bug that you come in contact with. Choose healthy ways of managing your stress levels. Take a 20 minute walk, listen to a guided meditation at the end of the day, inhale a calming scent like lavender, or do a few simple yoga asanas to bring your attention back into your body and off of the day’s responsibilities.
Take Immune Boosting Herbs
Most people know to take some vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on, but what other supplements can you take to keep your immune system performing at its peak? As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I have a few favorites from the Chinese Materia Medica. As always, consult your healthcare practitioner before adding any new supplements to your health care regime.
Astragalus is an adaptogen which helps the body cope with physical, mental and emotional stress. It has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to fight colds and flu.
Reishi mushroom, known as “Ling Zhi” in Chinese medicine, has strong antiviral, antifungal and anti inflammatory properties.
Cordyceps has been shown to boost production of ATP,increase levels of strength and endurance in athletes, and also promotes the adaptive immune system, including cellular and humoral immunity.
Studies have shown that many essential oils have strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. Diffusing oils into the air will purify the air and help relieve stress or boost your mood. You can also put a few drops of essential oil into a glass spray bottle filled with water to make your own sanitizing spray. Some great oils to choose for this purpose are Thyme, Lemongrass, Melaleuca (Tea Tree), Lemon and Rosemary.
Allison Blaisdell, MSTOM, Lic.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice at Maverick Wellness in Quincy, and also at Massachusetts General Hospital. She offers Acupuncture, Hypnosis, Nutritional Response Testing, and Frequency Specific Microcurrent, as well as online holistic health coaching and consultation. Her mission is to educate and empower her patients to achieve their best possible health.