What’s the difference between Medical Acupuncture, Dry Needling and Traditional Acupuncture?

Medical acupuncture, dry needling and traditional acupuncture – which one to choose?

Acupuncture practice is getting a little confusing. It seems like many other therapies and clinic types are adopting some type of needle insertion for health.

The great thing is, almost everyone is in agreeance that acupuncture treats a range of conditions and benefits health – that can’t be a bad thing!

But if you are someone looking for the right type of acupuncture treatment (which I assume you might be if you are reading this!), it can get a little tricky. So I’ve summarised the three most common acupuncture practices with their pros and cons below.

Medical Acupuncture

This type of acupuncture is practised by a qualified medical doctor. On top of their extensive medical training, they complete between 10-20 hours of training in acupuncture practice. They mainly treat musculoskeletal conditions and some internal health conditions like reflux, constipation, headaches and migraines.

Pros – often cheaper or even bulk billed in certain clinics, treated by a trained medical doctor, good option for simple pain conditions like low back back, neck pain, heel pain

Cons – limited conditions to treat, reductionist view of health (not holistic), clinic setting is not generally as warm and relaxing as a traditional acupuncture clinic, not ideal for conditions like infertility or pregnancy

Dry Needling

Dry needling is probably the most controversial of the acupuncture-type practices. You may unaware that in July 2012, Acupuncture became a registered profession. This means we are now under the same registration as medical doctors, physiotherapists, nurses and chiropractors.

This also means that ‘acupuncture’ is a protected title, meaning you can’t use it to describe your needle insertion practice unless you have had minimal 4 years training in an approved degree program. The only exception to this, is of course the Medical Acupuncture.

So any other professions like remedial massage therapists, physiotherapists or chiropractors who don’t have this training, but who do use a type of needle insertion practice, need to call in dry needling.

Many acupuncturists have a problem with other professions using dry needling. I don’t. I think it’s a great technique to use for pain conditions. It is a very specific technique of inserting needles into trigger points. It can be very painful which is why I don’t like to do this to my clients.

Pros – good for musculoskeletal pain conditions like knee pain, low back pain, neck pain, often practised by qualified registered practitioners (physiotherapists, chiropractors)

Cons – often painful, reductionist view of health (not holistic), can’t treat internal conditions like fertility, pregnancy or digestive complaints, can be expensive if treated by registered practitioner

Traditional Acupuncture (Chinese)

This type of practice is the original acupuncture practice. Almost every Asian country has a history of some type of acupuncture practice. There is some indication that it has been around between 2000-5000 years.

It is based on a really complex understanding of the balance of energies between our bodies and the environment. And changes to this balance results in health concerns. Acupuncture works on correcting this energy imbalance.

Pros – practiced by practitioners with minimum four year degree in Chinese medicine and acupuncture, holistic view of health, can treat a broad range of conditions, treats all conditions from their root imbalance, preventative healthcare system, great for internal conditions like fertility and pregnancy, clinic setting perfect for helping you relax

Cons – can be expensive without private health in Australia, some conditions can take between 1 and 3 months to treat.

I actually can’t think of any more cons! They may be because I don’t find there are anymore. Of course I am a bit biased but I chose this practice as a career for this reason.

So there is nothing BAD about the other practices, they all have their strengths and weaknesses and I wanted to give you the information to help decide which one to choose for your health complaint.

Always happy to hear from you if you have any feedback on your experience with the different types of acupuncture practice.

Registered Acupuncturist and clinic owner of Gold Coast acupuncture clinic, The Point of Wellbeing

Thicken Your Lining for Transfer, Naturally.

A healthy, thick lining is important for a healthy menstrual cycle and the implantation and growth of your embryo.

The thickness of your lining changes throughout your cycle, ranging from between 2-4mm during menstruation, then building to between 7 and 16mm when it’s around the time for an embryo to land in your lining – around transfer time.

You may have heard your fertility specialist say they like to see your lining thicker than 7mm to transfer your embryo.

Your fertility specialist also likes to see what’s called a ‘trilaminar’ appearance. This is when youcan clearly see the three healthy layers to your endometrium. Each layer has a particular function in being able to support a pregnancy so always good to know how yours is looking – you can always ask at your scan before your transfer.

When your lining is too thin, it may be missing some healthy characteristics that help support a healthy pregnancy, so it’s always a good idea to improve the health of your lining if you can.

There are three main causes of a thin uterine lining:

  1. Low estrogen
  2. Poor uterine blood flow
  3. Disruption to uterine lining – due to infection, caesarean section, pelvic inflammatory disease, laparoscopy surgery

Some natural things you can do to help:

  • Eat a warm, varied diet. Green vegetables are always good for estrogen metabolism. Meat or equivalent proteins are always good for blood building and blood flow. In Chinese medicine, cold foods can slow blood and cause pain in the pelvis so stick to cooked and warm foods.
  • Herbs (if in between IVF cycles or have the approval of your fertility specialist) – there are a huge variety of blood moving and estrogen supporting herbs but make sure you seek professional advice for the right ones for you
  • Exercise – so important for blood flow, walking helps move the hips, yoga helps move blood around the pelvis but running and extreme sports can negatively impact the blood flow to your pelvis so opt for more gentle exercises
  • Stress management – include more of the things you enjoy. When you feel stressed, you can experience symptoms like palpitations, breathlessness, tight neck and shoulders and sleeplessness which can all affect blood flow to your pelvis. If your body thinks you need energy for ‘fight or flight’, it starts to turn off your reproductive efforts
  • Mindfulness – a great practice to do every day to keep overthinking at bay. In Chinese medicine, overthinking uses up energy and blood that would otherwise be useful for your lining.
  • Castor oil packs – having warm, castor oil rubbed into your abdomen regularly can help warm and move blood around your pelvis

Lastly, acupuncture.

Acupuncture, by nature is calming and blood moving. Used with a heated herb, moxa, it can help warm the pelvis and direct blood flow to your pelvis and lining. It also works to keep you still and calm, reducing the effect stress can have on the growth of your lining.

Acupuncture is also anti-inflammatory which can help manage symptoms of pelvic inflammation and pain. This manual therapy is generally supported by fertility specialists because we’re not adding herbs or supplements that have unknown interactions with the IVF medications.

So there’s lots of natural ways you can improve your lining during your IVF cycle. We want to see a nice, beautiful thick, comfortable womb to grow your little embryo.

Registered acupuncturist and owner of Gold Coast acupuncture clinic, The Point of Wellbeing

Pomegranate Juice, Pineapple Cores and Brazil Nuts….can they make any difference to your IVF success?

I get asked about these foods often. There are forums and forums of information from women who have increased the consumption of these foods and had successful pregnancy stories.

There are plenty too that have had no success from including these foods, so how true is it, that eating these foods improves your chance of pregnancy with IVF?

I have a nutritional, research based and Chinese medicine viewpoint on this and some simple advice.

  1. Pomegranate Juice

In Chinese medicine, pomegranates have a sweet and sour taste which means they have an effect on the digestion and the liver. The red colour of the fruit means it has an effect on blood and its circulation. From a nutrition point of view, pomegranate contains high levels of antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamin C, B vitamins, iron, calcium, potassium and fiber. The down side is, they are very high in sugar. The juice especially and even more especially the store bought versions.

So pomegranate may have the potential to help with falling pregnant through boosting your immune system, soothing the liver energy (which in Chinese medicine has a big impact on your lining and menstrual cycle) and improving blood flow.

However, to really improve this function, I would mix your fresh pomegranate juice with a small amount of honey and a small sprinkle of cinnamon. These added ingredients will improve the blood and immune function of the pomegranate juice.

The only research available looking into the effects of pomegranate juice and fertility is a study on pomegranate seed oil extract for sperm quality in rats. Having up to 5000mg/kg of the oil did improve final embryo development. For a human weighing 70kg, that would be 350,000mg of pomegranate seed oil…eeek! (Niksevesht et al., 2015). Can’t imagine how many pomegranate’s that would be.

  1. Brazil Nuts

In nutritional medicine, Brazil nuts have the highest source of selenium out of any other foods by the same weight. Selenium is an antioxidant mineral that helps protect cells from damage. From a fertility point of view, this helps prevent sperm, eggs and embryos from cellular damage which may be associated with chromosomal damage and miscarriage.

There are currently no available studies I could find looking into the improved outcomes of pregnancy with IVF with Brazil nuts. If you find one, please send it to me, would be happy to update this post.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, Brazil nuts are considered a sweet and neutral to warm food. They have a positive influence on the energy of your digestion, kidney system and lung system. Your kidney system has a big influence on fertility and pregnancy in Chinese medicine, so any foods which support this system can help pregnancy success.

However, be aware that selenium in high doses can be toxic so please don’t go obsessively overboard on the Brazil nuts. Whilst they’re a great food to include after transfer, so are all the other nuts.

  1. Pineapple Core

This tasty summer fruit core contains a helpful enzyme named bromelain. This enzyme helps aid digestion and may help reduce inflammation, pain and swelling. This all sounds very helpful for a fresh transfer after your egg retrieval procedure.

In Chinese medicine, this fruit is neutral in thermal nature and has sweet and sour flavours. It is used to remove excess heat from the liver system which is often seen as inflammation.

Some cautions with pineapple, is that it can cause increased bleeding so you will need to discuss this with your fertility specialist especially if you are taking aspirin or clexane injections.

It is reportedly (through online forums) helpful specifically for embryo implantation but I can’t find any research to back up that claim. I also couldn’t find any reliable research looking into the effect of pineapple on success rates of IVF at all.

So in summary – all three foods have great, healthy qualities. Are they specific to improved outcomes with IVF? I don’t think so.

In Chinese medicine, we never consider one particular food as being the fix for any conditions. It is always the combination with the rest of your diet.

My advice is to always eat a warm, balanced diet. Eat food in its most natural state, not in a concentrated juice or extract. Remember also, that these three foods aren’t the only sources of the nutrients they provide. Plenty of other nuts, fruit and vegetables contain these nutrients in a variety of amounts.

So whilst it won’t harm you to eat more of these foods after your embryo transfer, please don’t be obsessive in your consumption. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, starches and protein and you will be giving your body the best chance of health before, during and after your embryo transfer.

Lastly, if you’re eating fatty foods, other high sugar foods, not exercising, not sleeping well, not drinking enough water and not looking after your health in general, it is highly doubtful these foods on their own will make any difference to your IVF outcome.

Always happy to hear your thoughts.

info@thepointofwellbeing.com.au

References:

Pitchford, P (2002) Health with whole foods: Asian traditions and modern nutrition. 3rd ed, North Atlantic Books

Niksevesht, M et al. (2015) Effects of pomegranate seed oil on the fertilisation potency of rat’s sperm, J Clin Diagn Res, Vol. 19, No. 12, doi 10.7860/JCDR/2015/12576.6853

Does Relaxing Help You Fall Pregnant?

It’s one of the worst things to be told by someone when you’re trying to fall pregnant. “Just relax! It will happen when you’re relaxed.”

As annoying as this is to hear, they might actually have a point.

Of course if you’ve been trying to conceive for over 12 months, please see a GP to have any medical concerns eliminated before assuming it’s just stress.

Stress is a physical response to a perceived threat. It’s like a complex natural alarm system.

When your body feels threatened, a surge of hormones are released from the Kidneys to help the body manage this.

Adrenalin and cortisol are the two major hormones released and they both have impacts on your health if they’re surging for too long.

Adrenalin increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and starts moving your stored energy, ready to help you deal with stress.

When you’re trying to fall pregnant, this means there will be less energy stores to support your pregnancy and the high blood pressure and heart rate can put your health at risk before and during pregnancy.

Cortisol is the main ‘stress’ hormone released in response to stress. High levels of cortisol causes an increase in blood sugar (has a major impact on women with PCOS) and works to switch off all the non essential functions of the body.

These non essential functions include the immune system, the digestive system and of course the reproductive system. These are not seen as important body systems in times of high stress.

If stress lasts long enough, these systems can become quite unresponsive. Hormones can become imbalanced, ovulation can be affected and your ability to nourish a growing baby can be affected.

When the stress is removed, these systems can go back to normal. And it can happen surprisingly quickly. Which is why so many women report being able to fall pregnant when they go on holidays.

However, most couples can’t plan a holiday every month around ovulation so what else can you do to reduce stress and improve your chance of pregnancy?

Exercise – moderate, regular exercise helps manage the body’s response to stress. Walking, yoga, pilates, Qi Gong, Tai Qi – all really good to help with breathing which can reduce cortisol levels almost immediately. It’s easy to avoid exercising on days you feel really stressed, but make the effort to do something small, even if it’s just some deep breathing, you will feel much better.

Managing your stress – discuss your workload with your boss, plan more regular holidays, rearrange your social schedule, ask friends and family for help, hire a cleaner or food service to reduce some of the stressors affecting you. Of course, you can always see a psychologist for any specific  stress management techniques.

Eat a warm, balanced diet – a healthy diet will keep you nourished for times of stress. For women, this includes grainfed meat with some fat, loads of fruit and vegetable, nuts, seeds and grains (unless intolerant).

Mindfulness – encourages you to sit for 10-15 min per day and slow your mind down. Research has found it is a great natural support for lowering cortisol. It can take some time to master this but worth it!

Acupuncture – acupuncture reduces adrenalin and cortisol. Because of this, it can help to regulate your hormones, improve ovulation and support your natural pregnancy experience.

Try and include all of these in your general wellbeing routine, not just when trying to fall pregnant and if you haven’t been on a holiday for a while, plan one!

MTHFR Gene Mutation and Natural IVF Support

Concerns about this gene have been popping up a bit over the last few weeks so thought I would share with you what this is all about and how acupuncture can help.

MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (mouthful I know!). Its name isn’t as important as its function though. It is an enzyme which helps B9 (folate) turn into its most active form for the body to use, named 5-MTHF.

Over the last few years, there’s been considerable interest in the mutation to the MTHFR gene. There are two main variations which can be found with a blood test.

Women who have been found to have either of these gene mutations, may have problems turning folate into 5-MTHF, halting the absorption of folate in the body.

Folate is crucial for brain function, the production of DNA and RNA, the body’s genetic material, and important for when cells grow rapidly like in infancy, adolescence and pregnancy. Folate also helps make red blood cells and helps with iron absorption.

Side note – folate is the natural form of folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic form used in supplements and fortified foods. Folate exists in many nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables.

The rabbit hole of information available about these gene mutations online is overwhelming.  So in the interest of reducing anxiety around this topic, I want to point out a few things.

  1. Gene mutations are common. They can exist without expression, depending on your lifestyle
  2. Many people have the MTHFR gene variant and suffer no problems in their health, fertility or pregnancy
  3. Some women with the gene mutation have no problem processing folate

But, to put this back into perspective of ‘whole’ health, the chemical pathway of turning folate into 5-MTHF is part of a much bigger and more complex process in the body called methylation.

“Methylation is, essentially, the on/off switches of the body – where countless molecules and processes can be activated, or deactivated, to perform a function, or to allow a reaction to occur.” (https://www.mthfrsupport.com.au/what-is-methylation/)

Many body functions rely on a smooth methylation process and problems to this may result in chronic diseases like migraines, problems with blood clots, PCOS, chronic fatigue, frequent headaches, depression, infertility and frequent miscarriages.

However, there are some natural things you can do to improve your methylation:

  • Eat a healthy and varied diet – include lots of green, leafy vegetables as they have high amounts of natural folate to fuel your methylation
  • Switch your folic acid supplement to a brand that has just 5-MTHF – bypassing the steps where the body has trouble converting (Orthoplex, Thorne and Eagle all have 5-MTHF in their prenatals).
  • Avoid high dosing with folic acid
  • Supplements – taking magnesium and zinc can help support your methylation
  • Gut health – probiotics and healthy gut bacteria are important for more efficient methylation
  • Avoid certain medications (with the advice of your doctor) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which are shown to lower levels of B9
  • Reduce stress – stress, chemical toxins, smoking and increased alcohol consumption can all negative affect your methylation process
  • Get acupuncture (of course) – some small research trials have shown that acupuncture may benefit the methylation process, improving gene expression. I mean if lowering stress does, than acupuncture has to right?

If you would like to investigate your MTHFR status, I would talk to your GP about getting the gene tested and then find an experienced naturopath or integrative doctor to advise you on the best course of action, if any. And combine their advice with your regular acupuncture treatments and healthy lifestyle.

For women going through IVF or trying to fall pregnant, who have experienced unexplained infertility, recurrent implantation failure or recurrent miscarriages, I would advise getting this tested and talking to your specialist and other health care providers about an individualised action plan.

Yin and Yang of the Menstrual Cycle Part 4 – Ovulation

Part 2 was focused on the Yin phase (or follicular phase), Part 3 was focused on the Yang Phase (or luteal phase) and now we can talk about how they interact…through ovulation.

Lara Briden recently said it perfectly…”ovulation is how women make hormones”. It is such a huge part of women’s health, yet so many women aren’t ovulating due to conditions such as PCOS, the most common anovulatory condition in women of reproductive age.

The pill also prevents women from ovulating as do many other chemicals, foods and medications.

In Chinese medicine, ovulation is the exact moment where Yin turns to Yang. The nourishing, blood moving, lining building, egg nourishing, feminine energetic state becomes the embryo growing, energy expanding, warming and masculine energetic state.

Without ovulation, you don’t get this perfect ebb and flow of hormone balance.

The primary energy that drives the balance between Yin and Yang is your Liver energy.

The easiest way to imagine how this works, is by understanding how night (Yin) turns into day (Yang)…through the movement of the earth.

The earth is in a constant state of energy movement. It is continuously and consistently moving at a pace that causes night to turn to day, over and over and over again. It barely wavers, at least not enough for us to notice.

If you imagine that something stops the earth from spinning in that consistent and constant pace (ie, the Liver energy becomes stuck), what effect we would have on the balance of day and night? We may get longer nights and shorter days or shorter nights and longer days. Or if it’s really bad…one really loooong night.

The same can happen with your menstrual cycle. Difficulty with ovulation can keep you in a very lengthy follicular phase.

Liver energy in Chinese medicine is responsible for keeping all the energy in your body moving freely, kind of like the energy that keeps the earth spinning.

Things that can cause Liver energy to ‘stick’ can be lack of exercise, constant stress, too much heating foods like alcohol and chocolate or not enough sleep.

If you have ‘stuck’ Liver energy, you may experience headaches, period pain, pain at ovulation, tight neck and shoulders, wake at 1 or 3am, irritability, easy to anger, red face, PMS symptoms or even digestive complaints.

When Liver energy is stuck, it cannot encourage the ebb and flow of a women’s menstrual cycle. Ovulation doesn’t occur or occurs very late or very early.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine work to correct the Liver’s imbalances. We use points that keep the Liver moving smoothly so it can assist with making this transition as smooth as possible.

Things you can do at home
1. Exercise regularly – aerobics and stretching are ideal exercise options
2. Each clean foods
3. Drink plenty of water
4. Reduce stress

Of course, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help too.