Sciatica in Eastern Medicine

One Friday afternoon, as I was about to treat the last patients in my clinic, a person came to see me limping on his left leg. He said the pain had started out mild 2 weeks ago but now was so severe that he couldn’t walk properly. He had rushed to the clinic to have a massage or chiropractic treatment for the first time, but since no one but myself, the acupuncturist, was there, he was inevitably treated with acupuncture. My treatment room was full at the time, so I prepared a spare bed immediately, asked him to lie down, and inserted needles into his other leg. I was so busy treating my scheduled patients that I couldn’t give my full attention to him. Yet 40 minutes later, he got up ahead of the other patients, tried stepping carefully along the corridor, and shouted, “Way better!” as he walked away with a normal gait.

Sciatica often occurs in the forties and fifties. It is a pain syndrome which occurs in the buttocks, thigh, calf, and foot due to compression, injury, and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It is usually caused by a herniated intervertebral disc, lumbar spinal stenosis, or neuromuscular injury, and is accompanied by pains, hot sensations, numbness, paralysis, paresthesia, or a dull heavy feeling radiating from the lower back or hip to the thigh, calf and/or foot, sometimes with accompanying weakness in the leg.

In Eastern medicine, sciatica is classified as lumbar leg pain, or lumbar pain due to kidney deficiency, qi deficiency, and/or blood stasis. This occurs either when pathogens in our body attack the related meridian and disturb the circulation of Qi and blood, or when blood stasis gathers in the lumbar or hip area. Another cause is aging which affects body essence and blood. It’s very interesting that the distribution of sciatic symptoms corresponds exactly with the body’s urinary bladder meridian (pain in the back of the leg) or gall bladder meridian (pain in the side of the leg), so we treat these meridians first.

Acupuncture is good for the treatment of sciatica, except in those cases requiring surgery. Stimulation through acupuncture opens blockages in the pathway between peripheral and central nervous systems, and at the same time promotes the secretion of painkilling substances such as endorphins and enkephalins. These painkilling effects last from a few hours to a few days. When the pain recurs, needling is again required. If each cycle is followed through, eventually the pain ceases to return and recovery happens at the root level.

A simple case of sciatica may heal on its own, but you may suffer from severe stress due to too much pain. Such stress can actually make sciatica last longer, so the sooner you can come to an acupuncture clinic, the shorter a time you may suffer from it. It takes 1 to 6 months to heal sciatica using acupuncture and herbs.


Prostate Health Is a Measure of Men’s Health

The prostate gland is only found in males, and is part of the reproductive system. It looks similar to a walnut and is located just under the bladder, encircling part of the urethra and vas deferens. It plays a key role in the muscles, nerves, and blood vessels of the pelvis, affecting both elimination and reproduction, so it is regarded as a barometer of physical health for men.

However, disease or disorder of the prostate is very common, with approximately half of all men experiencing it at least once in their lifetime. It is related to various factors such as age and hormone levels, with prognoses tending to worsen as men get older. Incidence rates are: 50% of men in their fifties, 60% in their sixties, and 70% in their seventies. The cause of prostate problems is not yet clear and treating them is not easy, so they can affect one’s quality of life greatly.

Prostatic hyperplasia refers to the enlargement of the prostate. It then compresses the urethra resulting in urinary disorders such as weak stream, frequent urination, nighttime urination, the sensation of incomplete emptying, and dull pain on urination. If hyperplasia continues it may lead to prostate inflammation (prostatitis). Typical symptoms are pain (prickly, or sharp and stabbing), discomfort, and heaviness, and these may occur in the lower abdomen, the perineum, and sometimes in the penis, testes, lumbar region, or thigh. Pain may appear abruptly and disappear just as suddenly, but discomfort, stiffness, dull pain or urinary difficulties can last for a few weeks or even months.

Hyperplasia and prostatitis, if severe, can result in urinary retention due to frequent obstruction, bladder dysfunction, uremia, chronic renal (kidney) failure, sexual dysfunction, sleep deprivation, depression, and more.

In Eastern medicine there is no disease name which corresponds to the Western term, but from a symptomatic point of view prostate disorders are called a urinary dysfunction, or Lin syndrome. The cause of prostate disorders is not seen solely as a problem in the urogenital system but as an imbalance in the whole body, possibly a disorder of 5 yin organs and 6 yang organs, or a general imbalance of Yin and Yang or of qi and blood. This is the same approach as with other diseases.

To be more specific, a kidney Yang deficiency or a kidney Yin impairment can be seen in older men, while damp heat or blood stasis in the bladder can be seen in younger men. Treatment is different in each case. Generally speaking, it is not easy to treat the root cause of this disease, and treatment for prostate disorders does take more time. However, the advantage of Eastern medical treatment is the high expectation for long term effectiveness, low rate of recurrence, and many fewer side effects due to the strengthening of the immune system. It is done by clearing heat, removing dampness, detoxification, tonifying kidney and spleen, strengthening qi, and getting rid of bacteria and inflammation. Both herbal medicine and acupuncture should be used.

Menopause and Hot Flashes

Menopause is the period of mental and physical changes a woman goes through due to the decrease in ovarian function. The effects can be felt over quite a range of time, including both before (perimenopause) and after the permanent end of menstruation.

According to Western medicine, menopause is caused by a decline in endocrine function which then affects the autonomic nervous system. This is usually due to the decrease of ovarian function, but can also be caused by functional disorders of the anterior pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, and/or adrenal glands.

Menopausal symptoms may include hot flashes, sweating, heart palpitations, edema, headaches, a heavy–headed feeling, and insomnia, ringing in the ears, depression, irritability, and a decline in memory, feeling tired or listless easily, gaining or losing weight, itchiness of the vulva, vaginal dryness, frequent urination, and more.

Western medicine’s main treatment for menopause is estrogen replacement therapy. This has been shown to be effective in relieving some symptoms, including atrophy of the uro-genital organs, and in preventing and decreasing osteoporosis after menopause.

However, research carried out by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) (established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. in 1991) reports that long-term use of hormone replacement therapy increases the incidences of coronary artery disease, stroke, breast cancer, and thromboembolism in women. Therefore it is now recommended that standard hormone replacement therapy for women during or after menopause be non-continuous.

Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause. These don’t merely involve a reddening of the face, but may be accompanied by an intense sensation of heat, an increased heart rate, feeling of compression in the chest or head, and sweating. This sensation of heat occurs across the face and can extend to the neck and chest. If it happens at night it can disturb sleep and then decrease concentration during the day. It can lead to a decrease in memory, hypersensitivity, tiredness, and depression.

In Eastern medicine the causes of menopause are usually classified into 3 types (which often overlap with each other): liver blood deficiency with deficient heat, deficiency of both yin and yang in kidney, and heart yin deficiency. Herbal medicines are commonly used to treat menopause according to individual conditions.  One in particular – called Jia Wei Xiao Yao San – can be used in conjunction with hormone replacement therapy.

Herbal medicine actually improves certain (especially neuropsychiatric) symptoms which Western medicine is not able to decrease. This difference underlines the characteristic benefit of Eastern medicine’s focus on regulating the body’s overall condition rather than just treating the specific symptoms.

A research study done on the effects of herbal medicine on menopausal women with hot flashes has demonstrated improvement of many symptoms including: hot flashes (reduced frequency), level of sweating, heart palpitations, insomnia, stability of emotions and moods, daily activities and life in general. Furthermore, the study’s findings showed no side effects from these medications.

Menopause is a very natural phenomenon for women, so why not use a more natural approach to treat it?


Tinnitus – Do you hear strange sounds in your ears?

A typical sign of aging is the dulling of the sensory organs, particularly the ears.  Yet these days many young people also are experiencing an ear disorder called tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a condition in which sound is heard from the inner auditory system unrelated to externally produced sound. It often appears when a person with a weak physical constitution and lack of stamina is exposed to excessive noise, experiences extreme stress, irregular eating patterns, sleep deprivation, and/or is overworked without adequate relaxation. Symptoms include not only sound (such as a “ringing in the ears”) but also hearing impairment, a sensation of blockage of the ear, vertigo, migraine headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, vomiting, nausea, joint and/or neck pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, neurasthenia, and more.

The following causes of tinnitus have been identified within Eastern medicine:

  • Deficiency of qi. Severe long-term illness or compounded fatigue can weaken a person’s qi (original energy). This can cause tinnitus. Typical symptoms include weakness in the limbs, lack of appetite, and feeling easily fatigued.
  • Lack of blood. When too much blood is lost during surgery or while giving birth, blood is not supplied adequately to the ears which can then cause tinnitus. Typical symptoms include pale complexion, heart palpitations, vertigo, anemia, and more.
  • Weakened kidneys. According to Eastern medicine, the ear is “supervised” by the kidneys, this being one of their main functions. Aging, long term fatigue or an excessive sex life can cause blockage of qi and blood movement to the ears, resulting in tinnitus. The body becomes emaciated, the complexion darkens, lips become dry, and one urinates frequently. Sound is weak and lower than in other type. This is the most common form of tinnitus.
  • Deterioration of spleen and stomach function. When the spleen and stomach are weakened by indigestion, food stagnation, or under- or over-eating, they are unable to send clear qi to the eyes or ears. This commonly results in feelings such as bloating or indigestion, weakness of the limbs, heavy-headedness, and more.
  • Liver qi stagnation.  This type of tinnitus occurs in a person who is testy, susceptible to stress, or has had a mentally traumatic experience. These cause the liver’s qi to stagnate, leading to “fire” moving towards the ears, and resulting in a hot temper, red complexion, and sleep disorder.
  • Phlegm-fire. In this case, tinnitus occurs when phlegm transforms into “fire” and blocks the ear orifices. The distinctive feature is phlegm, and is frequently accompanied by migraines and vertigo. The nervous system becomes sensitive, anxiety is present along with heart palpitations and indigestion, and the tinnitus sound is very loud.
  • And others: Otitis media, Injury of neck, Poisoning by drugs, toxins, or gas, etc can be the causes of tinnitus

Treatment of tinnitus depends on its causes. In general, it takes 2-6 months with acupuncture and herbs. But tinnitus is one of diseases which are not easy to cure because most afflicted patients are elderly people whose overall energy levels have decreased.




Thyroid Disease and Eastern Medicine

Thyroid Disease primarily affects women in their 20’s -40’s, with an incidence 7-8 times higher in women than in men. Typical symptoms may be overlooked as they can be mistakenly attributed to other factors such as one’s constitution, temperament, or external factors.

The thyroid gland is located in the front and centre of the neck and weighs about 15-20g. It secretes hormones which regulate body metabolism, and it plays a role in producing and regulating heat. Thyroid diseases can be divided into 3 categories: inflammation, functional disorder, and enlargement of the gland (goiter).

Inflammation caused mainly by autoimmune disorder leads to hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism consequently (Graves Disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis). Patients may experience just its symptoms. Hyperthyroidism displays characteristics such as increased production of body heat and accelerated metabolic function due to excessive thyroid hormone secretion. Symptoms include heat intolerance, heart palpitations, insomnia, increased appetite, weight-loss, increased perspiration, oversensitivity (including increased rate of speech, quick-temper, irritability, and more), protrusion of the eyes, and lighter menstrual flow or amenorrhea in women.

In contrast to hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism is related to a lack of thyroid hormones. Sufferers may experience such symptoms as: cold hands and feet, weight gain, shortness of breath, decreased heart rate, tiring easily and fatigue, constipation, dry skin, reduced ability to concentrate, excessive menstrual bleeding, and more.

Western medicine typically offers 3 types of treatment for thyroid disease: radioactive iodine treatment, drug therapy, and surgery (in less than 1% of cases). There is a high potential for radioactive iodine treatment to lead to permanent hypothyroidism. And thyroid drugs have many side effects, as well as a high rate of reoccurrence (70%) if the drugs are discontinued, even if taken for 1-2 years.

So, what is Eastern Medicine’s perspective on thyroid disease? A blockage of qi and blood circulation, caused by an accumulation of stress such as anger and irritability, or an accumulation of heat in the liver, can lead to hyperthyroidism. Treatment involves dissolving these accumulations and clearing heat from the liver as well. Hypothyroidism occurs due to weakness of the kidneys and spleen, and is treated by regulating water metabolism and strengthening yang qi. Goiter is treated by soothing the hardness and the accumulation of qi and blood.

A few years ago, one eminent Eastern medicine doctor in Korea developed an herbal formula for both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. It causes no side effects and has a greater than 70% cure rate within 2-6 months. Fortunately I got his formula which recommends herbal medicine and acupuncture twice weekly.

Thyroid disease occurs mainly in women who experience deep emotional pain and are unable to let go of anger, worry and anxiety. This kind of stress breaks down homeostasis in the body and paves the way for autoimmune diseases. So it is important for us to try to live our lives with a thankful, joyful and positive mind.

Treatment for Bad Breath in Eastern Medicine

I once read the amusing results of a survey which showed that we can live with someone who has bad foot odour but not with someone who has bad breath. The problem of bad breath causes many people agony. They may be too uncomfortable to tell someone close to them that that person’s breath is repellent, or they may be afflicted with offensive breath themselves. People often think that the cause must be a dental issue and thus turn to a dentist for help.

According to Eastern medicine, the true cause of foul breath may lie not only inside mouth.  Heat in the internal organs can produce malodorous breath and therefore its treatment also focuses on clearing this heat naturally.

First, there’s the case of heat in the liver. There may be a heightened sensation of heat when using the fingers to press from the skin’s surface down deep to the bone.  One who has heat in the liver often experiences achiness in the extremities, difficulty with bowel movements, is quick to anger, is easily startled, and their symptom of fetid breath worsens at dawn. This type of case is seen more often in male patients who regularly smoke and drink alcohol.

Secondly, there’s the case of heat in the heart. Symptoms include a feeling of fullness in the stomach area, aching in the chest, hot palms, feeling thirsty, and often belching. The bad breath is worse during the daytime. This condition is more often seen in female patients, as women tend to be more sensitive to stress in their environment. A person who has heat in the heart is easily irritated, and reacts sensitively to even trivial stimulation which leads to a worsening of breath odour.

Third is the case of heat in the spleen. A person with this condition often experiences weakness in the limbs, lethargy, apathy, and likes to lie down, and their symptom of malodorous breath is exacerbated at night. Irregular and incorrect eating habits burden the spleen and stomach, and undigested food accumulates and produces heat. This heat generates a thick coating on the tongue, causing foul breath to worsen.

Fourthly, there’s the case of heat in the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, a great deal of coughing, feeling frequently chilly, and the sense of being alternately hot and cold. Breath odour worsens around sunset, and tends to have a characteristic fish smell.

And fifth is the case of heat in the kidneys. This produces symptoms such as aching in the bones, an inability to tolerate heat, and difficulty standing up from a sitting position. It occurs more often in males who experience extreme physical exertion or have excessive sexual habits. Bad breath due to kidney heat is like a rotting smell, and may often be connected to an elimination disorder such as difficulty urinating, urination with blood, and/or constipation.

There are many causes of bad breath. If it is chronic, the recommended solution is to think of it as a disorder of the internal organs and to treat the root cause.

Cancer Treatment in Eastern Medicine

Eastern medicine’s approach to cancer treatment is used in China, Korea, Japan, and many other countries around the globe. One would expect it in the very birthplace of Eastern medicine, yet not all North Americans know that it is also used in the motherland of modern Western medicine itself, the U.S.A. Each year, U.S. News & World Report ranks the best hospitals, and 8 of the top 9 cancer treatment hospitals listed in 2012-2013 incorporate both Western and Eastern medicine (only #8 in the ranking does not).  The Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center…all of these are operating West/East medical centres.

The central characteristic of Eastern medicine’s cancer treatment is that it focuses not on the cancer but on strengthening one’s overall energy and body function. It concentrates on leading the human body to treat the cancer by itself through restoration of the digestive system, improving blood flow and nutrient absorption, strengthening the immune system, and restoring body function. In contrast, Western medicine aims first at attacking and getting rid of pathogens directly. Eastern medicine is now widely used in cancer treatment as a complementary and alternative therapy to deal with side effects from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Allopathic cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, can damage bone marrow, the immune system, and the lining of the digestive system causing side effects such as decreased physical strength and immunity, reduced appetite, lassitude, anemia, decreased number of white blood cells and platelets, diarrhea, vomiting, and baldness. Western medicine does have ways of treating these, but they merely reduce the symptoms. However, Eastern medicine’s approach of tonifying the body involves reducing side effects, in addition to directly increasing the body’s own immunity and restoring bodily function, and focusing on enhancing the patient’s quality of life.

For example, long term allopathic cancer treatments may reduce the appetite and lead to malnutrition, resulting in severe complications which can reach such a level that treatment just can’t be given any more. Liu Jun Zi Tang, one of the most commonly used herb formulas, has been verified to improve clinical effects such as prevention of reflux esophagitis, increasing of physical strength (strengthening qi), improving appetite, and decreasing the sense of bloating caused by obstruction in the upper digestive system after surgery (in digestive cancer). Another herb formula, Shi Quan Da Bu Tang, is also clinically verified to improve blood cell production, blood platelet and white blood cell counts, as well as immunity and physical strength. These medications are not contraindicated during chemotherapy treatment, and in fact support and further the concentration of these drugs in the blood.

Currently, Eastern medicine’s contribution to cancer treatment in western countries is no longer limited to supplemental effects. It has expanded into the area of controlling cancer cells directly, controlling metastasis, and improving cancer-susceptible constitutions. These effects have been clinically proven in the case of breast cancer, colon cancer, and bladder cancer.

Treatment of Lower Back Pain in Eastern Medicine

The lower back is one part of the body which easily gets hurt because it moves back and forth, side to side, and rotates while bearing the weight of the upper body at the same time. When we hear about lower back pain, we usually think of a disc problem referred to as “intervertebral disc herniation”. But actually that accounts for no more than 10% of cases. Low back pain is often accompanied by sciatica which radiates pain to the hip and leg.

When we feel pain in the low back, we can go to a doctor for an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI, and we may receive conservative drug and physiotherapy treatment, or even surgery in severe cases. But even if we undergo surgery, low back pain can reoccur easily. It’s at that point that people tend to come to acupuncture clinics.


Eastern Medicine’s treatment of low back pain focuses on the underlying problem which is causing the current symptoms, just as it does for other health issues.  In most cases I see clinically, lower back pain occurs due to the weakening of tendons and ligaments around the vertebrae, and in the case of older people degeneration of the vertebrae as well as. What I focus on during treatment is the diagnostic issue of why these tendons and ligaments have become weakened. Even if two patients come to see me with lower back pain in the same area, the cause of each may be different.

For example, in a person with chronic indigestion, low back pain treatment should deal with the indigestion problems first or at the same time as treatment of the lower back pain itself. This is because indigestion results in poor generation of qi and blood, which then can’t nourish the tendons and ligaments. Or in the case of someone with a hot temper who gets stressed easily; treatment should focus on the liver and on controlling stress, as well as treating the lower back pain. So Eastern medicine’s approach treats the root causes of symptoms, which prevents recurrence of the disease.

All low back pain relates in some way to the circulation of qi and blood in the lower back. I usually see a lack of qi and blood or stagnated qi and blood in the lower back, and internally this relates directly to the function of 5 organs and 6 visceral. If we normalize these, the muscles and tendons of the whole body (including lower back) will get stronger, at which point the lower back pain should be cured and rarely recur. As an added benefit, other common discomforts will also improve, such as neck, shoulder and knee pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, cold hands and feet, etc.

If a person with first-time lower back pain comes to an Eastern medicine clinic at the outset, most lower back pain may be cured without surgery. Curing low back pain takes 1-6 months with acupuncture treatment, and may require an application of herbs at the same time.

Wind Stroke (1) – Were you hit by the wind?

  “Wind stroke” comes from a term in Eastern medicine which literally means hit by the wind, pointing to a similarity with the wind’s abruptly changeable nature.  In Western Medicine this disease may be referred to as a CVA (cerebro-vascular accident) or stroke. The two approaches are similar, both considering it to be a kind of accident in which a person is struck by something suddenly with potentially fatal results.

Wind stroke is a condition usually characterized by sudden collapse, loss of consciousness, deviation of the tongue and mouth, hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the body), and slurred speech. In some cases there may only be deviation of the tongue and mouth, and hemiplegia, without any collapse. It often occurs in the elderly – in all seasons, especially winter and spring.

In Western medicine, hypertension and arteriosclerosis are regarded as the most common causes of wind strokes. But in Eastern medicine, we don’t only pay attention to the cerebrovascular disorder issue but also to the qi and blood circulation disorder throughout the whole body as well as imbalance of internal organs. Wind strokes happen in the brain and are closely related to the heart, kidney, liver and spleen. For example, deficiency of yin in these organs, as well as excess caused by wind, fire, phlegm, qi and blood stasis, which are also related to these organs may all be contributors to wind strokes.

In modern society people have a lot of stress. Persistent tension can cause constant strain in the brain and may lead to a wind stroke if it surpasses the brain’s limit of endurance. In a case that only shows light symptoms we will often see a twitching of the mouth, yet it may take up to 3-6 months to cure this completely. In severe cases, it can take 2-3 years for a person to return to normal life. But even those cases are fortunate, since in many others the afflicted person can end up living with disability in four limbs, or even with severe dementia. And in extreme cases it is fatal. People with hypertension, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, high blood cholesterol, obesity, etc., tend to be hit harder by wind strokes and it may be difficult to cure them fully.

There are some warning signs and symptoms before a real wind stroke hits:     numbness or weakness in hands and feet, especially in thumb and index finger; awkward speech and stiff neck; facial flushing and feeling heat rising upward; heavy-headed feeling; more frequent headaches, especially in the morning; dizziness and nausea; double or blurry vision; strange sounds in the ear; frequent twitching in eyelids; facial paralysis; and eye congestion or bloodshot eyes. The blood vessels in the eye and brain are very similar, so people with a tendency towards bloodshot eyes should be careful of wind strokes.

But a wind stroke can also happen without any distinct symptoms, so it is most desirable that we watch any small changes in our body carefully and prevent wind strokes in advance.