Some skeptics become acupuncture advocates
August 24, 2005
SUMMIT COUNTY – Dr. Julie Colliton studied traditional Western medicine and was a huge skeptic of acupuncture – until she saw proof.She entered an intensive training program led by Joe Helms at the University of California in Los Angeles. Helms showed how dye injected into acupuncture points runs through an organized invisible system in the body – not the typical lymphatic, vascular or neurological system. She saw how the dye remained in these invisible channels even three hours after injection. And that was enough for her.Now she uses acupuncture in her practice at the Summit-Eagle Spine & Rehabilitation center in Frisco for pain management. She said it helps relax spastic muscles and restore normal function. She also uses it in addiction.”If the patient is motivated to give up smoking, overeating or caffeine, it works,” Colliton said.Some skeptics, such as Colliton, need observable, scientific proof of the power of acupuncture. Others need experiential proof.Sara Scholten saw acupuncturist Lynne Drakos in Breckenridge as a last resort to dealing with recurrent inconclusive gynecological tests. Scholten was “very skeptical” about Chinese medicine, but a friend recommended it. After three months of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, Scholten began getting normal test results, and they have remained normal for six years. Now she sees Drakos for anything that pops up: sleep problems, allergies, hip pain or general lethargy.Similarly, Jamie Farfone went in to see Drakos as a skeptic, but after recovering from irritable bowel syndrome with acupuncture and herbs 10 years ago, Farfone now sees Drakos for other problems. She went off prescription drugs for migraine headaches; now she takes Chinese herbs if she feels a headache starting.
“In general, people come in … for the first time a little nervous and not sure if they will like acupuncture,” said Jane Matthews, who has practiced in Breckenridge for three years, focusing on injuries, pain and sports acupuncture. “Then they love it and want to keep coming for the pain relief and health benefits but also for the stress relief.” Drakos, who was the first acupuncturist in Summit County 10 years ago, said acupuncture is growing in Summit County, especially as the population grows. But when she first came to the county, she worked hard to develop strong relationships with doctors. Though most local doctors are open-minded, she said there is still some resistance regarding herbal remedies, partially because of the media scares such as ephedra. Ephedra is used in Chinese medicine to treat colds but has been abused as a stimulant.”I really think it’s a lack of knowledge or a misuse of the herb,” Drakos said of any resistance she sees.Drakos has made a lot of headway with fertility specialists who thought acupuncture wasn’t a legitimate treatment. And new studies have backed her up, showing acupuncture improves blood flow in the uterus and can restore normalcy to the endocrine system and trigger ovulation, according to reports in the journal Fertility and Sterility. But she’s still trying to convince doctors that she can cure cervical dysplasia, when they say she can’t.”There are studies out there (showing the efficacy of acupuncture), but we aren’t sponsored by the drug companies, so we don’t have money or time to research,” Drakos said. “But the medicine stands for itself. I say, ‘Let’s look at the results.'”How it works
The manipulation of qi (pronounced “chee”) is the foundation of acupuncture. Though the English language doesn’t have an acceptable translation of “qi,” it is described as a divine spark life force or an electrical/magnetic life energy, said Pamela Templin, an acupuncturist in Frisco who has worked with Chinese medicine for 22 years.Illness or injury occurs when there is an excess, deficiency or stagnation of qi.Acupuncture manipulates and balances qi mainly by placing needles in specific points to: 1) release excess energy, heat or toxins from parts of the body, 2) promote energy in stressed organs or places where the body has undergone trauma, and 3) move excess energy from one area or organ and redirect it to another area in need of energy.In acupuncture, qi travels along meridians. Twelve meridians correspond with a different organ system, such as spleen, liver, gall bladder and so on. Tim Toula, a Breckenridge acupuncturist, compares an acupuncturist to a hospital; the practitioner IS the cardiology, gynecology, oncology (and so on) departments because he or she can treat a variety of ailments.”(We) never treat just one thing,” Toula said. “You can address so many things and treat any person in so many different ways. That’s where the power of acupuncture is. You don’t have to be divided into treating a person in one specific way.”A practitioner takes many factors into account when developing an individualized treatment. For example, Chinese medicine categorizes people, food, medicines, moods and so on into five phases, or elements: wood, earth, fire, metal and water. There also are three primary energies that support life: qi, jing and shen. Qi can be acquired from breathing and eating. Jing is the fundamental energy with which a person is born. Shen is inner light or personal radiance. It results from harmony between body, mind and spirit, Judith “Lacey” Story, an acupuncturist in Frisco who graduated in the second graduating class in the United States about 23 years ago. “There’s an art and a craft of acupuncture,” Story said. “After years of experience, you become an artist rather than a technician. Every human being is a piece of art, and you learn from experience how to put the pieces of the puzzle together to treat the patient.”
Story uses the example that a headache could come from a cascade of events or influences – perhaps diet, thoughts, chemical imbalances or even a foot injury.”I’m not treating the headache. I’m treating the whole body by manipulating the qi with the correct treatment plan. Then the headache will go away,” she said.Most people feel relief with one or two treatments. However, the amount of treatments to address a specific problem varies from a few sessions to months or years.”Acupuncture can get that magical appeal to it – one of the hardest parts of the job is helping patients understand it’s not a magic bullet – but what shouldn’t be overlooked is how powerful it is in the long run when people are seeking treatment. It’s really important to remember that it’s process,” Toula said.And the process often involves lifestyle changes, such as better nutrition or relaxation.”Acupuncture makes the change,” Story said. “Then lifestyle changes hold the change. If there is no lifestyle change, then the symptoms can return.” Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.