Monthly Archives: October 2012

Acupuncture for Menstrual Pain (Dysmenorrhea)

Menstrual pain is a condition that afflicts many women, and it is not managed well by Western medicine.  Taking birth control pills is helpful for some women, but they are not an option for a woman trying to conceive.  Ibuprofen and related medications like alleve are harmful for kidney function and they are not adequate for pain relief for women with severe menstrual pain.  Acupuncture is a safe and effective non-pharmaceutical treatment for dysmenorrhea that is without adverse side effects.  Research demonstrates the effectiveness of acupuncture for reducing menstrual pain: within the first month of treatment the pain can be dramatically decreased and with regular acupuncture treatments in combination with Chinese herbs over a period of several months the pain can be eliminated.  Rectifying the cause of a woman’s menstrual pain will improve her fertility by improving the overall health and function of her reproductive system.  

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the cause of menstrual pain is stagnation of chi and blood.  Blood stasis and chi stagnation cause pain and also are an inhibitor to implantation for women trying to conceive. The liver meridian is always involved in this pattern, but other meridians such as the conception channel, kidney channel and stomach channel are also involved.  There can be underlying conditions of yin deficiency, spleen chi deficiency, or blood deficiency that are contributing factors to the stagnation of the chi and blood resulting in menstrual pain.  Your practitioner will treat the symptom of pain by moving stagnant chi and blood with acupuncture, and also address the root-cause of the pain with herbs, which may be a combination of the factors listed above.  An acupuncturist who is experienced working with gynecology can explain to you your exact diagnosis and how many menstrual cycles you should undergo treatment.  If you have had menstrual pain for many years, then you will derive the best results if you receive acupuncture treatments for several months.  

 The adjunct symptoms that accompany menstrual pain will also improve with acupuncture treatment.  This includes PMS, menstrual-migraines, breast pain, bloating, sugar cravings, low back pain, fatigue, unexplained infertility, irritability and mood swings.  Endometriosis can be treated with acupuncture in combination with Chinese herbs and if the patient is willing to undergo treatment for many months it can be cured without surgery. 

 In gynecology herbal medicine is considered very important and almost always your acupuncturist will combine an herbal prescription with your acupuncture treatments for optimal results.  Typical formulas used for menstrual pain include Xiao Yao Wan or  Shao Fu Zhu Yu Wan

 In TCM the constitutional imbalances that make a woman suffer from menstrual pain also make her more likely to suffer from fertility challenges when she is in her childbearing years and menopause-related problems when she is older.  When a woman shifts her constitution and eliminates the cause of her menstrual pain with acupuncture and herbal treatment, she is also preventing menopausal hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, frequent urination and helping to preserve her fertility should she decide to have children later in life. 

 If you have questions about acupuncture and the treatment of gynecological conditions or fertility do not hesitate to contact me!  



Acupuncture for Neck Pain

It is estimated that 45% of today’s workers have neck pain, and at any given time 12% of all women and 9% of men are suffering from neck pain.  Acupuncture can safely and effectively treat neck pain: not only does it reduce pain and stiffness in the short-term, but with regular weekly treatments and appropriate lifestyle changes acupuncture can cure even longstanding neck pain. 

 In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) neck pain is caused by the blockage of energy (Chi) flowing through the gallbladder and urinary bladder acupuncture meridians.  When we have an injury such as whiplash or chronic tension from long hours at a computer, the energy in our neck is impaired and slows down like a bottleneck in traffic, or like a dam on a river.  The ensuing symptoms of neck pain, inflammation and stiffness can all be alleviated with acupuncture treatments.

 Acupuncture works by stimulating the break-up and release of the blocked energy in your neck, thereby increasing the blood flow to the region to expedite the healing process.  You can expect from your acupuncture treatments:

            ∙Decreased neck pain

            ∙Increased neck range of motion and mobility

            ∙Decrease in local inflammation

            ∙Increased neck strength

            ∙A decrease in related conditions such as headache and back pain

 If your neck pain is acute, you should receive acupuncture treatments two or three times in the first week.  If you have chronic neck pain, weekly treatments for several weeks is necessary for good results.  Other treatment modalities such as massage therapy, cupping, or physical therapy in combination with acupuncture will give you even faster results.   A licensed acupuncturist can perform massage therapy and cupping in addition to acupuncture as part of your TCM treatment plan.  You may be prescribed a Chinese herbal formula for neck pain to take such as Jing Zhui Kan or Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang. 

 Please contact me if you have questions about acupuncture and neck pain, or anything else related to Traditional Chinese Medicine!



Choosing Healthy Fish: A Guide From Your Acupuncturist’s Perspective

A licensed acupuncturist will offer you nutritional advice for your particular constitution or medical condition based upon the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM).  You will be advised to eat whole foods over supplements.  For example, you would be advised to eat salmon instead of taking a fish oil supplement and iron supplements.  You would be advised to eat hearts of palm or eggs for calcium instead of taking a calcium supplement.  The reason for this is that the less processed food is, the more “chi” or vital energy it retains, so by the time a supplement is manufactured from its source it is virtually totally devoid of any of the life-energy or chi that was orginially in it.  The rule of thumb in choosing food that still retains a lot of “chi” is if it still looks the same as it did in nature and if it is still fresh, it still has chi.

Fish are an excellent source of nutrition.  They can be especially good for treating the TCM diagnoses of yin deficiency or blood deficiency.  The following is advice on how to choose quality fish to eat from Nick Rose, Nutritionist from PCC Natural Market.


At PCC, we refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide to help us choose which seafood options are best for sustainability.  <a href=” “>PCC Product Guide


By using this guide, PCC never carries farmed salmon, only wild Alaskan/Washington salmon. 


For trout, PCC should only be carrying farm-raised-rainbow trout, never wild caught trout, (unless it is from Lake Superior or Lake Michigan) because wild trout species are at risk for being over-harvested.  You can read here on the Seafood Watch page, about why farmed trout are a more sustainable choice than wild trout. See:  Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Program

and much more here:  Monterey Bay Seafood: Farmed Trout

Referring to the Seafood Watch guide is a very useful resource (we always have wallet-sized guides in our seafood cases-for you to carry with you) because sometimes wild is a better choice, and sometimes farmed is a better choice.  In this case, farmed is the better choice for sustainability.  When you shop at PCC, you can trust that you are always making a sustainable choice: according to Greenpeace, PCC has the most sustainable selection of seafood in the entire US: Greenpeace.


As for tilapia – you may know that this fish is always “farmed”…did you know that some tilapia farms are more sustainable than others?  US-raised tilapia is the Best Choice for sustainability according to Seafood Watch Factsheet: a handy table to refer to:  <a href=”…“>Seafood Watch Factsheet.


Let me know if you have any questions!  I can be reached at:  Nick Rose, MS  Nutrition Educator / PCC Natural Markets

206.547.1222 (ext. 140) / /



Common Migraine Triggers and Prevention Techniques by Melissa McCarty, ND

Migraines are painful, often debilitating headaches and are a common concern in primary care practices.  Up to 17% of women and 6% of men report experiencing a migraine headache in their lifetime, and, in general, women are three times as likely to have them as men.  Migraine pain is typically described as pounding, throbbing and sharp.  Some people report having a warning, or aura, before the migraine comes on and nausea and vomiting are commonly experienced during the headache.  Sufferers generally become sensitive to light and noise and must lie down in a quiet, dark room until the pain resides (usually hours, but these can last days).

 The migraine headache is poorly understood, but it is generally believed that in response to certain triggers the levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin drop causing a series of events that eventually lead to enlargement and inflammation of the blood vessels in the head, resulting in head pain.

 There are many known triggers for migraines.  Some of the most common include:

  • Hormonal changes such as estrogen fluctuations that occur before or during periods, with pregnancy and menopause.
  • Foods including alcohol (especially red wine), aged cheeses, chocolate, caffeine, fermented, pickled and marinated foods, soy, dairy, wheat, food additives, MSG and aspartame.
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorders
  • Environmental changes such as with weather, seasons, altitude, barometric pressure and time zones.
  • Sensory overload including loud noises, bright lights and strong smells

 An important part of prevention and treatment is to identify which trigger may be the underlying aggravator, and to remember that it is often more than one.  A common way to begin the investigation is to do a “Headache Diary”, in which one keeps note of when they get migraines, what foods have been eaten, stressful days or situations as well as menstrual symptoms like PMS or starting the period.  Jotting these down on a calendar can give insight in to patterns to the headaches.

 Food triggers are commonly identified through an elimination diet, in which the most common problematic foods are taken out of the diet for up to 3 weeks and then reintroduced one-by-one to see if the migraines come back.   Sometimes blood tests are used to identify potential problem foods which are eliminated in the same way. 

 In addition to diet, natural therapies are often effective in preventing migraine headaches.  Current research supports the use of riboflavin (vitamin B2), feverfew, butterbur, magnesium and CoQ10 in decreasing both the frequency and severity of migraine headaches in many patients.  A physical treatment called CranioSacral therapy can also be effective in prevention and treatment in that it can ease restrictions in the skull. 

 A sample treatment plan for migraine prevention may look like this:

  • Headache diary x 4 weeks
  • Identify and eliminate food triggers
  • Hormone balance through use of specific vitamins, minerals, herbs and/or hormones
  • Riboflavin—400mg daily
  • Feverfew—100mg twice daily
  • Butterbur—75mg twice daily
  • Magnesium citrate—up to 600mg daily (less if it causes diarrhea)
  • CoQ10—100mg three times daily

Some natural therapies should not be taken with certain medications, so it’s important to talk with your physician before beginning any herbal or nutritional treatment. 

 Finally, ensuring proper amounts of sleep and exercise, managing stress and eating regularly are important in preventing migraines.  Make an appointment with your naturopathic physician to discuss which of these options is appropriate for you.

 Melissa McCarty is a Naturopathic Physician practicing in Seattle, Washington.  She may be reached at her clinic Seattle Integrative Medicine, located at 5322 Roosevelt Way NESeattle, WA 98105.  Phone: (206) 525-8012


Acupuncture for Migraine Headaches

Migraines are a leading cause of misery and missed work for many people: they can be controlled by medication, but medication stops working for some of migraine sufferers.  When migraines are out of control, or when a patient is seeking a holistic and natural treatment, acupuncture is an ideal solution.  There is research supporting the efficacy of acupuncture for migraines.  Acupuncture cannot just reduce the frequency and intensity of your migraines: it can eradicate them completely with regular treatments.  Yes, that’s right: they can be cured if you follow your acupuncturist’s recommended treatment regimen in combination with the lifestyle and nutritional guidance that you are given.

  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) migraine headaches fall into two categories: liver yang rising or liver fire.  There can be underlying conditions predisposing the patient toward these patterns including blood deficiency, blood stasis, qi stasis, or yin deficiency of the liver or kidneys.  Liver yang rising includes the following symptoms:


∙Blurred Vision



∙Intense Pain


∙Emotional component of anger, frustration or resentment

∙Recurring headaches

∙Irritability and Restlessness


∙Visual symptoms: flashes or aura


The category of liver fire can include the symptoms of liver yang rising but may also include:

∙Sudden anger or emotional outbursts

∙Bitter taste in the mouth

∙Intense, throbbing quality to the pain

∙Strong thirst for cold drinks

∙Feeling hot, especially in the face

∙Dry, red tongue

∙Yellow urine & dry stools

 Acupuncture treatment for migraines should be performed 2 to 3 times in the first week for migraines occurring daily or for a migraine that has not abated for days.  If the migraines are periodic or occurring in conjunction with a woman’s menstrual period, one treatment weekly is suggested.  In difficult cases a patient may need to receive weekly acupuncture for 6 months to a year.  It is very common to have Chinese herbs prescribed in conjunction with acupuncture for best results.  An example of a Chinese herbal formula commonly used for liver fire type migraines is Long Dan Xie Gan Wan (Gentiana Drain the Liver Fire Decoction).  For liver yang rising the formula commonly prescribed is Tian Ma Gu Teng Yin (Gastrodia & Uncaria Decoction). 


 In TCM the liver system is always involved with migraine headaches; sour foods injure the liver meaning they aggravate migraines.  A migraine patient is advised to avoid foods like sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt, lemonade, grapefruit, vinegar and vinaigrettes.  In the case of liver fire, foods that aggravate heat symptoms are contraindicated such as spicy curries, hot chilies, cinnamon and horseradish.  For more nutritional advice based upon TCM I highly recommend the book Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford.


 We all know that stress makes headaches worse.  Stress and the emotions of frustration and anger in particular can stagnate the free flowing energy of the liver and gallbladder systems in TCM, resulting in migraines.  It is best if possible to eliminate the sources of aggravation in your life if you suffer from migraines.


  There are other therapies that can help migraines beside acupuncture and herbs, especially cupping and massage therapy.  Cupping can alleviate chi and blood stasis, thereby treating many forms of migraines.  Massage therapy is excellent for alleviating stress and lowering liver yang rising, thereby helping to reduce migraine frequency and intensity.  Massage, cupping, and acupuncture all complement one another very well in the treatment of migraines.    A licensed acupuncturist has massage therapy and cupping as part of his or her scope of legal practice, so you can receive all of these modalities as part of your TCM treatment plan for migraines. 


 Even chronic and difficult cases of migraines respond great to acupuncture!  Consider the following testimonial from a patient who displayed symptoms of both liver yang rising and also liver fire:


 “Monica was highly recommended to me by a co-worker, and seeing her for acupuncture was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I’ve suffered from migraines for years, but 3 years ago they suddenly worsened. I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes dryness and chronic inflammation, increasing the frequency and intensity of my migraines. I wish I had started seeing Monica sooner! I improved dramatically, averaging 1 or 2 very mild migraines per month, instead of 3 or 4 intense ones. I got by with just taking over-the-counter pain medicine for a migraine instead of prescription medicine, which I’ve NEVER been able to do!! I’ve also cut my daily prescription migraine prevention medicine dose in half, and I’m still improving! I’m amazed, and excited to see how much better I’ll get! This treatment has been life changing for me. Monica also gave me food recommendations, which have helped with my migraines and dryness as well. She is very skilled and caring. I’m so glad she was recommended to me!”

 This patient is continuing to receive acupuncture treatments and continuing to improve at the time of this post. 


 Stay tuned for upcoming posts on other medical conditions that can benefit from acupuncture!  Feel free to contact me with suggested topics or questions.   



Acupuncture For Pain

In a recent article published by the Associated Press, “Acupuncture gets a thumbs-up for helping relieve pain from chronic headaches, back aches and arthritis in a review of more than two dozen studies . . . The results provide the most robust evidence to date that acupuncture is a reasonable referral option” wrote the authors.

 I love to see positive mention of acupuncture in the media!  There are many things about acupuncture and the treatment of pain that go unmentioned in the article, and that people untrained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) do not realize. 

 Acupuncture can treat a wide variety of medical conditions that involve pain, including emotional pain.  Depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, insecurity and frustration: all of these emotions have a clear cause within the framework of TCM and can easily be treated with acupuncture and also Chinese herbs.

Acupuncture is not just a way to relieve the symptom of pain: it also helps to treat the root-cause of the disease or medical condition causing the pain.  By increasing the circulation of Chi or energy and also blood to the pathological or injured area of the body, it expedites the healing process, thereby helping to remove the cause of the pain, not just the pain itself.

 Acupuncture helps to eliminate the things that go along with pain: in particular, fatigue.  Acupuncture is extremely effective at improving fatigue.  Acupuncture reduces swelling, inflammation, and even depression from longstanding unresolved pain: all of these will improve along with the reduction of pain from regular acupuncture treatments.

 In upcoming posts I will be covering specific kinds of pain and their treatment with acupuncture and TCM, such as back pain, sciatica, menstrual pain, and also emotional patterns such as anxiety and depression.