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Acupuncture & Chinese Herbal Medicine


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient healing system dating back thousands of years.
TCM practitioners view the body-mind process as an integrated whole and believe that disease is the result of imbalance within the whole. The physical body, mental-emotional state, environment, diet and lifestyle are viewed as equally important components in the maintenance of balance and prevention of disease. All organs and vital functions in the body are thought to be a constant continuum, influencing, controlling and restraining one another.

Modern allopathic (western) medicine separates the body and mind, emphasizes disease management, treats specific diseases and searches for certain micro-organisms to be treated with strong pharmaceutical medications. In contrast, TCM uses natural approaches to restore harmony, never separating the person from the mind, the spirit or the environment. A TCM assessment can detect subtle changes in the homeostatic balance of the body before it reaches the disease stage, allowing TCM treatment to emphasize the prevention of disease.

TCM treatment commonly includes a combination of the following techniques:
  • Acupuncture
  • Chinese Herbal Medicine
  • Chinese Massage (Tui Na)
  • Cupping
  • Moxibustion

Common Questions


How Does Acupuncture Work?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture works by manipulating "Qi" to re-establish balance.
The exact mechanism behind acupuncture is still a very hotly debated topic. Here are a few of the prevailing theories:
The "Augmentation of Immunity" Theory states that by some unknown process, acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood cells, gamma globulins, and antibodies.
The "Endorphin" Theory states that Acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body (specifically Encephalins).
The "Neurotransmitter" Theory states that certain neurotransmitter levels (such as Serotonin and Noradrenalin) are affected by Acupuncture.
The "Circulatory" Theory states that Acupuncture constricts and dilates blood vessels by causing the release of vasodilators (such as Histamine).
One of the most popular theories is the "Gate Control" Theory. According to this theory, the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system, which regulates the impulse, which will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the "Gate." If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed, and it closes. This prevents some of the impulses from getting through. The first gates to close would be the ones that are the smallest. The nerve fibres that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibres called "C" fibres. These are the gates that close during Acupuncture.
In the related "Motor Gate" Theory, some forms of paralysis can be overcome by Acupuncture. This is done by reopening a "stuck" gate, which is connected to an Anterior Horn cell. The gate, when closed by a disease, stops motor impulses from reaching muscles.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?
When performed by a skilled licensed practitioner, Acupuncture rarely hurts. The sensation caused from needle insertion varies from person to person. Some feel a little pain when the needle is inserted but most feel no pain at all. It is however very common to feel a strange sensation, sometimes described as heaviness, tingling, pulsing or even numbing. This is normal and these sensations aid in ensuring a positive outcome from treatment. It is important to note that acupuncture treatment rarely needs to be uncomfortable to be effective so be sure to tell your practitioner if you are feeling so.

What kind of needles are used?
Acupuncture needles vary in length, width of shaft and shape of head but despite common misconceptions, the most commonly used acupuncture needles are typically no thicker than a strand of hair. All of the needles are pre-sterilized, disposable and discarded after single use in accordance with medical biohazard regulations and guidelines.

How many sessions will I need?
This entirely depends on the condition being treated as well as personal response to treatment. It is common to begin seeing some form of change by 2-4 sessions but many conditions will take 10-12 sessions to resolve or reach a point where only occasional maintenance treatment is required. In China, it is quite common to receive acupuncture daily or every other day, resulting in quick resolution of conditions. Here in the west, it is much more common and cost effective to receive treatment once or twice a week, which will usually suffice to achieve positive effects.

Are Chinese herbs safe?
When administered by a skilled and licensed herbalist, Chinese herbs are very safe. Chinese herbal products manufactured and imported by Canadian and American companies are strictly regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Canadian (and some European and Australian) herb companies ensure the safety and quality of Chinese herbs by rigorously testing for contaminants, toxins, and heavy metals, and by employing meticulous methods of correct species identification. It should be noted that pre-made patent (pill form) herbs produced in the People's Republic of China by Chinese companies are not held to the same high standards. We only use high quality herbal products at our clinic.

How are Chinese herbs administered?
Chinese herbs are generally prescribed in formulations containing 4 to 12 herbs. The synergistic use of several substances creates a dynamic effect that cannot generally be achieved by a single plant. Traditionally, dried herbs are cooked as a decoction by simmering in water for a period of time, then straining and drinking the liquid as a tea. To make things easier for our patients, our herbal formulas are available in concentrated granules that easily dissolve in water, as well as in the form of tinctures, capsules or tablets. Herbs for topical use may be prescribed and are used in the form of lineaments, washes, salves, and plasters.

What are Chinese herb granules?
Chinese herb granules are manufactured in a carefully controlled process that begins by cooking raw herbs in water until a concentrated liquid is obtained. A special extraction method captures and preserves the volatile oils, which are later added back to the herb product. The herb liquid is highly concentrated, slowly dried, and sprayed onto a base of finely powdered herb material or potato starch. After drying, this is ground into powder, resulting in herb granules that are easily dissolvable in liquid. These granules are concentrated to a potency of about 5:1, which means that 5 kg of dried herb material is used to produce 1 kg of concentrate. With the resulting product, consuming about 10 grams of granules daily equals the potency of taking 50 grams of raw herb in decoction. The granules are prepared under the strict laboratory conditions and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) regulations and each batch is tested to assure optimal potency and safety. State of the art testing is performed on the herb granules and only those passing high standards for safety and efficacy are used. Laboratory tests check for potential microbes such as E. coli, salmonella and other contaminants. Gas Chromatography (GC) testing is used to detect potentially harmful pesticides and herbicides, Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) assesses the concentration of heavy metals, and High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) measures the potency of active ingredients.

Are there any side effects from taking herbs?
Traditional Chinese herbal medicine uses herbs only in their whole form, meaning that certain chemical constituents of the plants are not extracted and removed, or unnaturally concentrated. As such, herbs have very few side effects, and when prescribed by a well-trained herbalist, problems are minimal to none. The main potential concern is gastrointestinal upset. Your herbalist will carefully consider this factor and include herbs that promote digestion as needed to assist in the digestion of the potent plant constituents. It is also very important to inform your herbalist of any known allergies prior to treatment to prevent potential allergic response to treatment.

Can I take herbs if I am taking prescription medications?
When seeing a Chinese herbalist, you should bring a list of any medications you are taking to your appointment. Certain herbs may not be appropriate if you are taking some beta-blockers, hypertensive or blood thinning medications or if you have kidney and/or liver metabolism issues. A well-trained herbalist will know which herbs should be avoided with certain medications and supplements.

Can I take Chinese herbs if I am pregnant?
The actions and effects of Chinese herbs have been meticulously observed and classified for over two thousand years. There are many herbs that are considered contraindicated for use during pregnancy. Though many of these herbs are prescribed in small dosages when treating pregnant patients by doctors in China, herbal practitioners in the West tend to be much more conservative. These herbs are well documented, and Chinese herbalists are trained to strictly avoid their use with pregnant patients. There are hundreds of other Chinese herbs that are absolutely safe for use in pregnancy, and in fact, are often very helpful in resolving many obstetric problems. It is always important to inform your herbalist if you are or suspect you may be pregnant.

Are herbs safe to take if I am breastfeeding?
As with foods, medications, and supplements, when taken by breastfeeding moms, small amounts of herbal medicine will enter the breast milk and be passed on to the baby. For this reason, herbalists are careful when treating breastfeeding mothers, but it is not necessary to avoid taking herbs all together. Herbs that gently nourish the body, encourage optimal digestion, support immune function, and otherwise promote relaxation and vitality, may be taken safely. It is always important to inform your herbalist if you are breastfeeding.

Can children take herbal medicine?
Many Chinese herbs are safe and effective for treating paediatric conditions. Dosages are adjusted appropriately for the child's body weight. Often herbal formulas will be administered as granules that can be dissolved into juice or pureed fruit. Herbs should be given to children only when prescribed by an experienced, well-qualified herbalist trained in paediatric care.