The healing power of acupuncture

Acupuncture was developed more than 2,000 years ago and is practiced in many countries, but it has gained acceptance in the West only in the last two decades. And though many know its reputation for effective pain relief, it is useful in treating a variety of physical and mental health issues, practitioners say. Vashon has several licensed acupuncturists, and while each treats a range of health problems, several have specific fields of expertise that may surprise some people who have never experienced acupuncture’s benefits.


Infertility is a painful obstacle for many couples, and Eli Stahl, an acupuncturist at Full Circle Wellness Center, had several patients facing the issue ask if acupuncture might benefit them.

The answer, backed by more and more research, is yes, Stahl said.

In the last year and a half, Stahl has studied acupuncture and fertility issues extensively, including taking a continuing education class in Seattle that included acupuncturists, naturopathic physicians and medical doctors specializing in fertility.

“I decided I was going to get good at this, or I was not going to do it,” he said about the specialty, which, he noted, is one where Western medicine is meeting Chinese medicine.

And while no medicine is 100 percent successful in treating infertility, Stahl has found acupuncture to be helpful with habitual miscarriage, endometriosis, easing the side effects of fertility drugs and lessening the stress and frustration inherent in dealing with infertility, he said.

What’s more, recent studies have found that acupuncture increases the success rate of in vitro fertilization by 65 percent. According to Stahl, increasing numbers of fertility clinics have acupuncturists on staff, including one in Seattle, which has one of the highest success rates in the country. Practitioners there follow a specific protocol and treat a woman with acupuncture immediately before and after the medical team transfers the embryos to her, he said.

“It’s spreading all over,” he said of acupuncture’s use in the field of fertility medicine.

Though Stahl has developed this new expertise, he sees patients on Vashon for many health issues, including, at the top of the list, digestive disorders and sinus complaints — a problem for many people in this area’s damp environment.

Pediatric health

One evening each month acupuncturists Jessica Bolding and Marina Smith host the pediatric Full Moon Wellness Clinic at Paradise Ridge Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine (PRAHM).

The clinics focus on preventing illness as well as treating it in children in infancy through the teenage years, according to Bolding, who says the treatments are useful for a variety of conditions, ranging from earaches and frequent colds to sleep problems and behavioral issues.

The two practitioners use a Japanese style of pediatric acupuncture called “shonishin,” which does not involve needles — typically not a favorite among young children — but rather a collection of eight tools that stimulate acupuncture points according to what is needed, Bolding said.

These tools have been around a long time and were designed specifically for pediatric conditions, Bolding said. She and Smith have given each of the tools kid-friendly English names, such as the “witch’s broom” — which looks a tiny broom, and is used to gently tap the scalp and is useful in treating problems of the central nervous system, including hyperactivity — and the “gold wand,” a solid gold dull needle that is simply held on certain points until the qi, the body’s vital energy, rises to the point. This treatment boosts the immune system, Bolding said.

As in a Chinese clinic, there are no private rooms in Bolding and Smith’s clinic; instead, people gather in a central room, resting on floor cushions, and the practitioners talk with and treat them there.

“It is a friendly, non-invasive environment,” Bolding said,

The clinics, which began earlier this year, have been popular, with practitioners seeing about 10 children each time, according to Bolding. The treatments help keep kids healthier, less likely to come down with colds or the flu, she added, and some parents have reported that their kids seem to have more focus and are less agitated.

The treatments often keep the lines of communication open between parents and children, too, Bolding said, because she and Smith ask a lot of questions — from bowel movements to sleep issues —  to understand the child’s health. As they are being treated, kids often bring up school issues, Bolding said, problems with a teacher or friend, for example. It’s a good place to sort out some of those problems.

“We really try to address all the needs that are there,” Bolding said.

The clinic promotes community-building, too, Smith noted and exposes kids to something new.

“It opens kids up to alternative medicine,” Smith said, “and they really enjoy the treatments.”

The cost of the clinic for one child is $25, or $20 per patient for more than one child.

“It makes it affordable for parents to do preventative wellness care for their children,” Bolding said.

Mental health

While conventional medicine has long considered mental health to be separate from physical health, in the framework of Chinese medicine, the health of the body and the mind are inseparable, and throughout its history, acupuncture has been used to ease problems of the mind and spirit along with those of the body.

In Dennis Levin’s practice on Vashon, he mostly treats people for pain, he said, but he also specializes in treating mental health issues. Levin is also the staff acupuncturist at Fairfax Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Kirkland, where he has worked for more than six years.

In severe, chronic, long-standing mental illness, practitioners focus on getting symptoms in remission as long as possible, Levin said. The Chinese have been using acupuncture and herbs to treat serious mental health problems for centuries, Levin noted, and while a cure may be possible, it would likely require quite a lot of treatment.

In more episodic mental health problems, such as depression that may or may not be related to life events, acupuncture can be extremely helpful, Levin said, with many patients feeling some relief after one treatment and often seeing considerable improvement with regular treatment within a month or so — roughly the same time period it takes antidepressants to work.

And for people experiencing a more acute mental distress and its attendant problems, such as insomnia and irritability, and wanting immediate help, Levin said acupuncture is extremely helpful.

“I believe acupuncture is the rescue remedy second to none for those kinds of problems,” he said.

Additionally, acupuncture can also be useful in treating eating disorders and addictions, ranging from food to narcotics to alcohol to prescription medication, he said. In his private practice, he sees a lot of people addicted to painkillers, he added.

“If the truth be told, stress is probably the leading cause of illness in the United States. Whenever I help alleviate the stress someone is experiencing, I have gone a long way toward healing his or her illness,” Levin said.

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