Acupuncture Leicester - Digestive System

Digestive System Conditions (Part One)


In today’s post we are going to have a close look at the treatment of digestive system conditions from the point of view of Western Medicine (WM) and Chinese Medicine (CM- and including Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine). This particular area may demonstrate more vividly the difference between the two approaches. Whilst WM tends to concentrate on the biological and chemical changes occurring in the disease process, CM is more concerned with the functional changes and what has led to them. The same applies to the approach regarding the treatment: WM focusing on trying to reverse, stop, or at least slow down these chemical and biological pathological changes, whilst CM focuses more on restoring the impaired functions of the organs by treating the underlying cause as well as the symptoms themselves. I will try and demonstrate that with an example: the different approach is particularly apparent with the most common G.I. condition i.e. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It has no known chemical or biological changes associated with it. It is purely a functional problem and therefore a complete mystery to WM. For CM, however, it is the complete opposite. Since the symptoms are abundant we have a lot to work with to analyse, understand and treat the condition. On the other hand, in the case of IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) like Crohn’s Disease the Doctors can see clear inflammatory changes and Autoimmune involvement and they therefore have more to offer in the way of treatment than in the case of IBS.

I am going to discuss in a bit more detail the most common of GI conditions: IBS, IBD, chronic constipation, diarrhoea, diverticulitis and stomach related conditions.

Let’s start from the beginning. The GI tract starts with the mouth. The most common mouth complaints are mouth ulcers/sores and inflamed gums. In both these conditions the treatment with WM is limited to soothing and pain reduction. CM, however, understands that both are a result of excess heat mainly in the stomach. The treatment, therefore, with Acupuncture and Chinese herbs, is aimed at reducing the stomach heat. The results are excellent and, since we treated the source, also longstanding.

Next is the Oesophagus. Primary oesophagus problems are fairly rare. Oesophagus problems are more commonly a result of stomach acid damaging the oesophageal lining, producing pain known as heartburn. We’ll discuss it with stomach acid problems.

Let us continue our journey down the digestive system. After the oesophagus is the stomach. The stomach function is to receive the food we eat, start the digestive process and gradually move it downwards to the duodenum. Stomach problems can generally be divided into acid related problems and stomach dysfunction problems. Acid problems are usually due to the stomach fluid being too acidic or due to the protective layer of the stomach walls being very weak or damaged. Another common problem occurs when the sphincter between the stomach and the oesophagus is malfunctioning allowing stomach acid to travel upwards causing heartburn. The symptoms of hyperacidity problems are usually a burning type of pain around the stomach area, sometimes radiating to the back; sometimes after

food but can also come before food (hunger pain). The symptoms of a malfunctioning stomach are more common after food and include bloating, fullness, extending or swollen stomach and pain. Other possible symptoms are low appetite, nausea and sickness. These two types of stomach problems can sometimes be combined. The WM treatment for stomach acid related problems is with antacid medications. There are different levels of those: from alkaline buffers like Gaviscon or Rennies which simply reduce the level of acidity of the stomach fluids, to drugs like Omeprazole which completely stop the production of acid. From the point of view of fast symptom relief these medicines are, in most cases, remarkably effective. When Omeprazole came on the scene about 25 years ago (I was a young doctor then, working in a hospital) doctors were reluctant to prescribe it. The worry was about the impact of no acid production on the stomach. The rationale was that the acid production must be there for a reason and that if it was eliminated it may cause some long term problems. At the time, Omeprazole was prescribed for the most severe acid related problems which had not responded to other treatment. However, over the years, the doctors became more and more relaxed about prescribing it. It is now one of the most commonly used medicines and these days it is used for almost any stomach niggle.  Recent studies into the long term effects of taking Omeprazole have found out, not surprisingly I have to say, that depriving the stomach of its natural way of working in an acidic environment has its price: from a problem in vitamin absorption which can lead to Osteoporosis and other problems and to increase cases of Oesophageal cancer. Yet again’ we find out that attempts to interfere with the natural working of the body have a long term negative consequence. So, treatment of acid problems with WM: good on the symptoms but worries about the long term use of the drugs. It is probably worth mentioning that WM almost eliminated the problems of stomach and duodenal ulcers. This very painful condition which used to be fairly common when I was a young doctor has almost disappeared now since the discovery that it is caused by a bacteria. Adding a course of antibiotics to the antacids made the treatment of these conditions very effective.

The Chinese medicine treatment of stomach over-acidity is aimed at reducing the hyper acidity state and at improving the stomach function. This treatment is often successful. It has no side effects and tends to last for the long term. However, in the case where Heartburn symptoms are a result of a Hiatus Hernia then CM can be less effective since we are talking about a structural problem. I still recommend to try and treat any stomach acid problems with Chinese herbs and Acupuncture first, but in some cases we’ll have to resort to acid blockers or, in some bad cases, to an operation to repair the Hiatus Hernia. 

The other type of stomach problems can generally be described as indigestion. It often includes symptoms like bloating, swelling of the stomach and epigastric pain. In some cases low appetite and/or sickness are present as well. WM will place these symptoms under the IBS diagnosis. The only WM treatment available for this condition is Mebeverine. It works on the nerve system. Although its mechanism of work is unknown it is thought to relax the digestive system muscles. Its effectiveness is controversial as a few studies failed to show anything above a placebo effect.

Chinese medicine treatment for these types of stomach complaints is highly effective. According to Chinese medicine these symptoms can arise due to one of three reasons:

 a) a weakness of the stomach 

b) accumulation of thick fluids in the digestive system (called dampness in CM)

c) stress, distorting the normal workings of the stomach

Combinations of two or three of those is not uncommon. The treatment of these with Acupuncture and Chinese herbs is very efficient. The aim is to restore the function of the stomach and therefore, when it’s done, we can stop the treatment without the risk of the symptoms returning.

I am going to skip Pancreal and Duodenum conditions which are fairly uncommon. We’ll briefly go through Gallbladder as I have a few more important conditions to cover in today’s post. So, the main problems with the Gallbladder are Gallbladder stones and Gallbladder infection (Cholecystitis). Cholecystitis is treated with antibiotics which are fairly effective for the Acute phase. The problem is, however, that the infection can turn into chronic inflammation of the Gallbladder wall. The treatment offered here is usually an operation to remove the Gallbladder. CM can treat Chronic Cholecystitis effectively without the need for an operation. Gallbladder stones are a much more common condition. They are more common in woman, over forty years old and overweight. CM is very effective in clearing gallbladder stones as long as they are 1cm or less in size. Bigger than this and we will struggle to dissolve them.

Next we are going to examine the treatment of IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Diseases). There are two conditions included in this category: Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Crohn’s Disease (CD). Both are chronic inflammation in the digestive system but are different in some aspects, most importantly in their location. Whilst U.C. is limited to the large intestine, CD can accrue in any part of the GI tract. This difference has an implication re the treatment. Both conditions are probably Autoimmune in nature. 

The Western medicine treatment of both is generally with Immunosuppressant drugs. These medications suppress the activity of the Immune system and , by doing that, stop the Immune system from attacking the GI tract. Immunosuppressant drugs can be successful in reducing the inflammation and therefore the symptoms, and yet these are strong medications which are likely to have long term serious side effects like an increase in the likelihood of cancer (through repressing the normal work of our immune system). Another problem is that these meds are for life’ as often the case, they do not treat the root of the problem and therefore have to be taken continuously. In cases where the meds are not working, or have stopped working, the Doctors will resort to an operation to remove the affected segment of the GI. In the case of UC this will be a cure. Removal of the large colon means that the disease can’t come back. It will however leave the patient with chronic diarrhoea in a good case, or a colostomy bag in a bad one. When it comes to CD the situation is more complicated. Removal of the diseased area will only provide a temporary relief from the symptoms. The disease will flare up again in a different part of the Digestive tract. One of the things that shocks me most, is the willingness of the Doctors in this country to operate on a CD patient to remove the inflamed section. It is a temporary solution and will almost certainly eventually bring them to an early grave since there is only so much of the Digestive tract you can take out before it becomes incompatible with life. Sometimes there is no choice and an operation is needed but it should only be done as a last choice!

Chinese medicine treatment of IBD is quite effective although in some cases it needs to be given together with WM treatment, at least at the beginning of the treatment and until clear improvement has been achieved. These conditions are chronic and severe and therefore the treatment may take time. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are needed and it is strongly recommended to go to an experienced Practitioner. If you can find the Practitioner and commit to possibly long term treatment then it is worth going for CM treatment for Crohn’s and/or UC. It will make you healthier and it may save your life. The few difficult cases that don’t react to CM treatment can be then treated with WM.

We are going to go down in the severity of the conditions and talk about chronic diarrhoea and chronic constipation . These can be very upsetting but, unlike IBD, there is no inflammation involved and they are extremely unlikely to kill you. I thought it important to discuss these fairly common conditions because, as amazing as it sounds, WM does not have the first idea as to what causes these two conditions and therefore the treatment offered is very poor! In CM however these conditions are the bread and butter of Digestive System malfunction. CM recognises a few clear patterns of diarrhoea and constipation. For example, constipation can be caused by dryness in the gut: the stools will be very dry and hard to pass. It can also be caused by Qi deficiency (lack of energy in the gut to move the stool forward). The stools in this case will be very thin. Constipation can also be caused by GI stagnation (problems with the smooth flow of energy in the colon); in this case the stools will be like small pebbles (rabbit droppings). Understanding the different patterns and the underlying causes allows Acupuncture and Chinese herbs to provide effective and longstanding treatment.

We are left with Diverticulitis, anal conditions and IBS and this post is already too long so I will discuss these in the next one! 

To summarise the Great WM /CM GI comparison so far: which is more effective?

Mouth conditions-CM all day

Stomach and Oesophageal related problems-WM for symptoms, CM for long-term help

Indigestion and other stomach malfunctions-definitely CM

Gallbladder conditions-Cholecystitis: WM for acute, CM for chronic

Gallbladder stones-CM for stones 1cm and smaller, WM for larger stones

IBD (Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis)- CM except the difficult ones; often a combination of CM and WM will yield the best results

Next time IBS, Diverticulitis and anal conditions.

Looking forward for that!

Contact us today for any further information

Ilan Shahor Acupuncture

Dr Ilan Shahor


The Great Med Off 2: Musculoskeletal related pain conditions

In today’s post we are carrying on where we left off last time: trying to compare Chinese Medicine (CM) and Western Medicine (WM), from the point of view of effectiveness of treatment. In this post I am going to discuss a very common group of ailments- musculoskeletal related pain. Musculoskeletal conditions are probably the type of conditions most frequently seen in my Clinic. They are generally very common and are often poorly understood and treated by GPs. Musculoskeletal conditions include any pain that originates from the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Common manifestations are lower/middle/upper back pain, sciatica, neck pain, hip, knee, shoulder and other joints pain. Although there are a lot of different conditions in this category, the general treatment principles for the various Musculoskeletal conditions are pretty much the same (in both Western and in Chinese medicine). We’ll start with Western Medicine.

Generally speaking musculoskeletal related pain is, in my opinion, very poorly understood and treated by WM Doctors. However, in some situations, WM is superior to CM. I’ll try and explain. The WM treatment offered to people in these conditions is the usual sliding scale approach. Let’s take lower back pain as our example. A patient who presents at the GP with this complaint will usually be prescribed a course of painkillers or the so-called anti inflammatory drugs, which are painkillers with a different name. If these don’t achieve the desired results then the next step will be a course of Physiotherapy. Next will be the steroid injection and, if this fails, an operation will usually be offered. This is generally the flowchart with some small variations according to the individual circumstances. Let’s look at it stage by stage.

Stage one: painkillers/anti-inflammatory drugs. The case here is similar to the criminal overuse of antidepressants by GPs. The problem is the same: these medicines do not treat the problems that cause the pain, they only treat the pain itself. The problem here is that since the original condition hasn’t been resolved then the patient will become dependant on their painkillers. The longer the drugs are used the higher the risk of side effects. Possible side effects from the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers vary from digestive problems to stomach bleeds and kidney failure. Another problem is that after a while the body develops tolerance towards the medicine and its effect lessens. The patient will then need a bigger dose or even another type of medicine (often stronger). It is not unusual for people who struggle with chronic pain to be on two, three, or even four types of medicine to deal with the pain. Of course, the more medicines you take the greater the risk of side effects. I have to clarify here-I am not completely opposed to the use of pain medication. Just as in the case with antidepressants it has its place and should be used in some cases-mainly for short term help and when all else has failed. In any other cases we should surely try and treat the condition with safer and healthier methods and should always aspire to a long term relief whenever possible.

Stage two: If painkillers are found to not be enough then we move to a course of Physiotherapy. Physiotherapy, when it is being done properly, is an important part of effective treatment for musculoskeletal conditions. In the U.K. at the moment, unfortunately, the Physiotherapy available on the NHS is very limited.

Stage three: Steroid injections. A mix of steroids, painkillers and local anaesthetics is injected directly into the painful area. The results are mixed. While in some cases quite a quick reduction in pain can be achieved this tends to be only temporary. Within a few weeks to a few months the pain is often back. The injection can only be repeated two or three times as more than this can start to cause damage to the structure that has been injected.

Stage four: Operation. I am often amazed how quickly patients with musculoskeletal problems are offered an operation to solve the problem. Of course, in some cases an operation is needed. If the cartilage is torn or the joint is completely worn out then no amount of Acupuncture or Osteopathy can help. However, in many cases, operating on a musculoskeletal problem is like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Usually there is no need to apply an expensive and possibly dangerous procedure, with questionable success rate, when you can almost always cure the problem with a simple and safe method like Acupuncture.

I am aware that I am generalizing here…there are a lot of different causes of musculoskeletal pain…but the general principle still applies: why use heavy handed methods (painkillers, steroid injections, operation) with possible dangerous side effects when you can sort out the problem with Acupuncture. Acupuncture is extremely safe and very effective in treating most musculoskeletal pain conditions, particularly when the pain is arising from ligaments or tendons, strains or inflammation, arthritic joints and muscle problems. Another major advantage of Acupuncture is that in many cases we can achieve a long term relief and even a cure. Unlike the opinion prevalent among Doctors and Physiotherapists, Acupuncture is definitely not just pain relief. In most cases it can create a better condition for healing by improving blood circulation, relaxing the muscles and reducing inflammation.

So, when it comes to musculoskeletal pain conditions, who is the winner? Western Medicine has the stronger ability to reduce pain with powerful pain killers. It can also replace the whole joint when the old one is beyond repair. However, in the great majority of musculoskeletal pain conditions Acupuncture will be more effective, much safer, and will achieve long standing results without developing a dependency on the treatment. It’s also important to say that in some situations a combination of Western and Chinese medicine will achieve the best results.

In the next post I’ll be concentrating on Gastrointestinal conditions. I will discuss Inflammatory Bowel Diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis as well as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and others. I am looking forward to this one as it is going to be a particularly interesting one. Now I just have to find the time to write it!

Best of health to everyone.

Dr Ilan Shahor

The Great British Med Off

In today’s post I will try and embark on the very complicated task of comparing Chinese medicine and Western medicine. Having qualified and practised in both disciplines I think I am in a good position to do so. The subject is vast, it’s multifaceted with different layers to it. It can easily fill a book or two. As usual, I am going to try and simplify matters. I will try and focus on the practical aspects: which discipline is likely to be more beneficial in which condition; what are the pros and cons etc. The next few posts will be dedicated to this comparison with a different group of conditions in each post.

However, before starting with all of this I would like to stress a very important point. In many cases it is not necessarily one type of therapy or the other which will reap the most benefit but a combination of both. In China, Chinese and Western medicine are working effortlessly in harmony side by side. Chinese medicine practitioners are also trained in Western medicine and vice versa. There is an understanding of the pros and cons, the strengths and weaknesses and, most importantly, the limitations of each discipline. A Western medicine practitioner, in China, won’t hesitate to refer a patient for a course of Chinese medicine treatment on occasions where they feel it will be beneficial. A TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioner, on the other hand, will be able to identify the cases which require Western medical intervention.

Let me give you an example of how it works in practice. A stroke is a very common condition. It can have a devastating effect on the patient. In the West, from the people who survive a stroke, 33.3% will recover completely, 33.3% will partially recover, that means they will have some residual paralysis, and 33.3% will stay fully paralysed. Western medicine has no means to affect or improve this outcome. In China, however, the treatment for a stroke is a beautiful demonstration of the possible cooperation between TCM and Western medicine. A patient with a stroke will be rushed firstly into a Western medicine ward and will normally stay there for a few days only. After being assessed by the doctors as being in a stable condition, the patient will be transferred into a rehabilitation unit. On that unit most of the methods used for rehabilitation are TCM methods, namely: Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and tuina (physiotherapy of Chinese medicine). The full recovery rates on these units is around 80%!! This demonstrates how Western and Chinese medicines can (and should) work beautifully together. Soon after the stroke, at the early stage, Western medicine is essential. In a small portion of patients emergency surgery will be needed. Chinese medicine can’t help those patients at that stage. In the later stage, however, the rehabilitation is the important factor and that is where Western medicine can’t help much but Chinese medicine can!

The question that naturally arises is why can’t it work like that in our health system? After all we all want as successful an outcome as possible for the patient. The answer is that, unfortunately, when it comes to openness towards and awareness of other treatment options we are miles behind the Chinese. Whilst TCM practitioners qualified in this country have a good knowledge and understanding of Western medicine basics and in particular of “red flag symptoms” (symptoms that may indicate a serious medical condition and therefore require a referral to a doctor), Western medicine practitioners haven’t got a clue about TCM and what it can do. There is still a complete ignorance regarding the issue and that is a great shame!

However, we can’t keep digressing from our main issue: the Great Med Off! I would like to start with the treatment of cancer. It is by far the most asked about condition in my Clinic. Can Chinese medicine cure cancer? The answer to this question is, unfortunately, in most cases, no. Chinese medicine is extremely good in fixing body systems that are malfunctioning but if there is a lump of cancerous growth in the body then it is just not strong enough. I have heard about cancer cases which have been cured or at least been improved with TCM treatment but these were all in China, in a very specialist clinic using very strong herbs (mainly animal products) which are not available to us in the UK. The bottom line is that, despite the obvious shortcomings of the Western medicine treatment for cancer (severe side effects), I still usually recommend to those who ask me to keep on with the Western medicine treatment, particularly in cases where there is a chance of a cure.

Chinese medicine, however, still has an important part to play in the treatment of cancer. On my last trip to China I saw a presentation of a big study of the treatment of cancer by a combination of TCM and Western medicine. In that study breast cancer patients were divided into two groups. One group had received the traditional Western medicine treatment of an operation and chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The other group received the same treatment and in addition they received TCM treatment that included acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and a form of exercise (QiGong or TaiChi). The results were: a) a dramatic reduction in the side effects from the Western medicine treatment and a significant increase in the quality of life in the combined Western and Chinese medicine therapy and, more surprisingly, b) a 30% increase in the survival rate in the combined treatment group! So again I would say combine if you can. The problem is that it is becoming harder and harder to combine Chinese medicine in the treatment of cancer in this country. In the past I used to treat people who were going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy with acupuncture and herbal medicines. Those treatments were very successful. The patients used to suffer much less from side effects and felt generally better. They used to go through the treatment with much less problems including less bone marrow suppression (which causes a fall in white blood cell count and often forces the doctor to stop or to reduce the chemotherapy!). It was common for my patients to report that the doctors asked them how they were staying so well. Recently, unfortunately, more and more treatment centres tell their patients not to take any other treatment during the chemotherapy. The reason given is that they don’t want anything to interfere with their treatment. This policy comes out of the ignorance of Western Medicine Doctors regarding Chinese medicine. The doctors are probably too busy to check out the available research. Again I think that it’s a great shame. So when it comes to cancer I will say definitely combine if you can but if I had to choose a winner then it is Western medicine due to its better ability to deal with tumours and an overall bigger chance of a cure.

Next in our Great Med Off are skin conditions. I chose it to follow the cancer section probably due to my need to balance things up. After giving the advantage to Western medicine regarding cancer treatment, when it comes to skin conditions then Chinese medicine is a clear winner. Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and acne are common, usually chronic, and very poorly treated by Western medicine in my opinion. The Western medicine approach to treating these conditions is suffering from the usual problem: it only treats the symptoms. The first line of treatment is usually with creams, mainly creams containing steroids. On the one hand these are quite effective and will clear most types of skin lesions. The problems start when we stop using them. The condition is likely to come back. A long term use of steroid cream will damage the skin and is therefore not recommended. The use of steroid creams can therefore only be recommended in light and self limiting conditions and is usually not effective in the chronic condition. The second line of treatment is with steroid or other Immunosuppressant drugs. The dynamic there is similar to the use of cream. These medicines will often be very effective in clearing the skin condition. However, the condition will be almost certain to come back, at least as bad as it was before the treatment, when we stop the medicine. A long term use of these medicines will cause serious side effects such as kidney or liver failure, diabetes, atherosclerosis and others.
The only cases where I support the use of steroids or Immunosuppressant drugs in skin conditions are those where the condition is extremely severe and other treatments have failed.

The Chinese medicine approach for skin conditions is different. It has a good understanding of the reasons and causes of these diseases. Treatment with Acupuncture and Chinese herbs is directed towards the cause of the symptoms as well as the symptoms themselves. With chronic conditions the patient will have to be a little patient as the treatment may take a few months but the results are usually excellent and long-lasting. (For a more detailed explanation as to how Chinese medicine can understand and treat skin conditions please go to the conditions section in my website.)

In my next post I am going to discuss musculoskeletal conditions, digestive system problems and psychiatric conditions with the pros and cons of Western medicine and Chinese medicine regarding the treatment of these areas. Which one will come out on top? The answers are all in my next post.

Good health for everyone.

Dr Ilan Shahor

About Chinese Medicine Part 2: So how does it all work?

Today I will set about the complicated task of trying to explain the logic behind Chinese Medicine, or How It All Works. I use the word complicated, not because the logic itself is complicated, in fact it is all based on very simple and practical principles. However, to explain it to someone with no formal knowledge of TCM can be tricky. I remember the first time I was battling with TCM theories. It was during my TCM course with the Beijing University. We were all medical doctors and we all struggled. It was very hard for us to comprehend what the lecturers were saying. It was completely different from everything that we knew (and remember most doctors think they know most things there are to know about human health). The main problem was that we heard about Qi and Yin and Yang, heat, cold, dampness and what happens when these are out of balance. It sounds initially like a dry list of statements that didn’t make much sense,it was like reading out of telephone directory. How do you know? Where is the proof? What makes you think that all of this is actually true? We all felt a bit uncomfortable, with some of us probably questioning the wisdom of paying out good money for attending the course.

This heart-sinking feeling started to gradually change when we began to see patients. All of these seemingly dry and abstract theories (for modern doctors) started to come to life. We could actually see then that the Yin deficient patients were getting hot and dry mouthed at night for example, and that the patients with excess dampness felt heavy, bloated and sluggish. The Qi deficient ones were tired and their speech sounded like they were straining to get the words out of their mouths. The blood deficient ones were pale and a bit dizzy; the liver stagnation patients were emotional and impatient and so on. It all started to make sense. We started to realise that all of these TCM theories are based on careful and patient observations, and are based in reality. The warming up of our attitude towards the TCM theories further strengthened when we noticed the night heat and dryness had improved when the patient was treated for the Yin deficiency; the mood swings and irritability had disappeared when the liver stagnation had been attended to, and so on. Brilliant, I thought; as I keep on telling my patients-the proof is in the pudding. I have never looked back since.

In the beginning, however, it was all a bit difficult to understand so I will do as I always do and try and simplify TCM for you. So, where shall we start? I think that the two most important principles in maintaining health according to Chinese medicine are flow and balance. Flow refers to the flow of Qi (body energy), blood and body fluids. Balance refers to the balance between Yin and Yang, heat and cold, dryness and dampness and excess and deficiency. As long as free flow and balance are maintained in our bodies then all is good; we feel well and are not suffering from any ailments or symptoms. However, if the flow is blocked or disturbed, or if the balance fails to be maintained, then problems will start. These problems can be on the physical, emotional or mental levels. I will explain in more detail, starting from the flow. The most important flow is the flow of the Qi. Blockage of this flow will result in pain that is usually dull or throbbing in nature. A common example of pain from the stagnation of Qi is the abdominal pain suffered by some of the IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) sufferers. On some occasions the flow of Qi is not blocked but just disturbed. A very common example of that is when the liver Qi flow is disturbed usually following stress or worry. The resulting symptoms will be mainly emotional such as mood swings and irritability. The Qi is needed for all the body functions and therefore a disturbance in its flow can be followed by symptoms in different systems of the body. It will usually start to cause a problem in the weakest area in each individual. Problems with the flow of blood will also primarily manifest as pain. Pain from blood stasis will typically be sharp and stabbing in nature. Blood is most important in women and most gynaecological problems are related with blood circulation problems. Examples are endometriosis, PCOD (polycystic ovary disease), infertility and painful periods.

The flow of blood is also essential in the healing process of wounds and traumatic injuries. It is quite astonishing to see how quickly traumatic injuries are healed when treated with Acupuncture and herbs to improve blood flow.Another example is non-healing ulcers. These are typically occurring in diabetics and old people and are the result of poor blood circulation that prevents healing.These patients will have to go to the GP clinic two or three times a week to change the dressing on the wound/ulcer but there is not a prospect of it healing. However, if it is treated with Chinese herbs that improve blood flow then the wound/ulcer will heal within a few weeks!

The flow of body fluids is also very important-we are 70% water. Still, normally, we don’t feel that damp. However, if the normal flow of fluids around the body is disturbed then problems will start to manifest. These types of problems can manifest in different systems of the body. A few common examples are: digestion problems such as bloating and diarrhoea, oedema, skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, joint problems like arthritis, thrush and others. So, maintaining the free flow of Qi, blood and body fluids is very important. As long as they flow then all is in working order.

Now, what about balance? We mentioned Yin and Yang, heat and cold, dryness and dampness and excess and deficiency.First Yin and Yang, this blog is too short, of course, to explain the Yin and Yang concept properly. It’s a bit tricky to understand and I have met a few practitioners who still struggle with it but I’ll try to explain. Yin and Yang are the two opposite aspects of any energy. They contrast but co-exist and are co-dependant. Everything in nature has a Yin and Yang aspect to it. The famous Yin and Yang symbol (see picture) symbolises this co-existence. It shows two separate powers creating the whole. The little dot represents the small amount of Yin within the Yang and vice versa. They are co-dependant and nourish each other. Yang is hot and fiery and rising upward and Yin is cool and watery and going downwards and so on. So what does it all mean to human health? In the human body the Yin and Yang have to be operating in perfect balance. Any change from this balance will start to manifest as physical symptoms e.g. if the Yin energy is weak then the person may feel hot, particularly at nights-night sweats are possible, dry mouth, or general dryness and sleeping difficulties. It’s like our coolant and moisturising fluids are missing. The Yin deficiency symptoms tend to be more prominent at night as night is normally the time when the Yin is predominant whilst the Yang is predominant during the daytime. The most common example of Yin deficiency is the menopausal age. At this age the woman experiencing a sudden drop in the Yin energy results in symptoms of night sweats, dryness and so on. These women, by the way, will respond wonderfully well to a course of treatment to strengthen their Yin energy. When the Yang energy is low, the patient will feel cold and tired. Low libido, sexual function and difficulties, and water retention are common as well. The deficiency of Yin or Yang can be general in the body but can also be limited to a specific organ e.g. asthma arising from lung Yin deficiency will typically manifest as wheezing with a dry cough and a dry throat whilst asthma arising from a lung Yang deficiency will more often manifest with wheezing with a cough with a large amount of phlegm obstructing the airways. The picture can be a bit more complicated when there is a mix of Yin and Yang deficiency but an experienced TCM practitioner should be able to make the right diagnosis and apply the right treatment!

The second type of balance that needs to be maintained in order to promote health is dampness and dryness. Our body needs to be in a perfect level of humidity throughout all the different tissues and organs. We are made of 70% water and yet we normally don’t feel watery. That is due to this perfect working balance of the fluids within us. What happens if this balance is disturbed? We start to struggle. This can happen in certain areas of the body (e.g. digestive system) or within certain systems (e.g. joints) or it can be general in our body. An added complication to these conditions is that when fluids start to accumulate in the body they often turn from clear healthy fluids to more thick heavy and sticky fluids, termed by TCM as damp. Damp is a major pathogen in TCM. It commonly arises as a side product of ineffective digestion and is found to gradually accumulate and spread in the body. It’s common in modern day due to rich and often unhealthy diet and eating habits, often combined with being under pressure and with a weakened digestive system. When it accumulates it can cause problems in different systems of the body e.g. abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea, arthritis and asthma. Heaviness and stiffness are common.
The opposite of dampness is dryness. In these situations the organs and tissues are suffering from a lack of moisture. This situation can arise from the presence of heat which dries the tissues, from problems in the body water distribution system or pathway or from lack of Yin ( remember, the energy that keeps us cool and moist). A common manifesto can be constipation with dry stools, dry skin conditions like eczema, and lung conditions like asthma.

The third balance is the one between heat and cold. The temperature has to be right all over the body to sustain good function. As is the case with other elements, heat and cold can affect one area of the body or be generalised all over the body. Some of us are naturally colder and will be more susceptible to cold related problems, and vice versa with the naturally hotter people. In some cases we can have a mixed picture where in certain parts of the body there is too much heat and in others too much cold. This can make treatment a bit tricky and an accurate diagnosis is essential here. The most common symptom from excess cold is pain. It is commonly in joints (the ones that get worse on a cold day), in the digestive system or in the gynaecological system. Heat problems are very common these days. Generally speaking, a rich diet and stress are to blame for that as both tend to generate excess heat in the body. Excess heat is a common cause of most skin conditions, inflamed joint conditions like gout, most types of migraines and many others.

The balance between excess and deficiency is very important but is also a bit hard to explain. Generally speaking the practitioner has to decide, in any one case, are the symptoms a result of the patient lacking in something or having too much of something. In other words, what is causing the imbalance-too much (excess) or too little (deficiency)? For example, the patient is feeling too hot-is that a result of too much heat in the body or is it a result of a deficiency in the Yin energy which is the energy that keeps the body cool? The patient feels a lack of energy – is it a deficiency in his Qi energy or is it a result of dampness clogging his body and making him feel heavy and sluggish? Correct diagnosis is absolutely essential and getting it right is more than halfway towards successful treatment.

Alongside free flow and balance, there is one more critical aspect of Chinese Medicine, which I have not yet discussed with you: the function of the body organs.

One of the most amazing insights of TCM into the human body is the understanding of the subtle function of the organs. Try and tell a doctor that the heart is responsible for our sleep and our mental ability and he will think that you are tripping on something! The heart is just a muscly pump which pumps the blood around the body, he will say. A similar bemused reaction will follow the claim that the liver is in charge of our emotional functions and is of crucial importance in conditions like depression and anxiety. Modern medical science knows only about the physical and chemical functions of our organs but unfortunately has no idea about their subtle functions! Understanding the function of the different organs, particularly of the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver and spleen ( in TCM the concept of spleen includes the pancreas, the duodenum and the small intestine) is essential for successful diagnosis and treatment.

In reality, of course, humans are not simple and often symptoms will arise of a combination of two or more of these imbalances. For example, stress can disturb the flow of the liver Qi which will often affect the spleen; a weak spleen will cause inefficient digestion which will result in an accumulation of dampness. The dampness can clog the flow of Qi and so on. In my clinics I often see cases which are very complicated, many systems are involved and imbalances are intertwined.
The longer you leave the problem without treating it the more complex things tend to get. The reason for this is simple: when one area or system starts to malfunction it inevitably puts pressure on other areas or systems of the body; after all, they are all connected and intertwined in the great living work which is our human body. It is very important therefore for the TCM practitioner to have a deep understanding of the subtle workings of the body and of the different pathologies that may affect it. An accurate diagnosis is key to a successful treatment.

I hope this post makes TCM a bit more understandable. It is about a fully established and very effective form of medicine and it’s important to me that people understand more about it.

In my next post (or maybe few posts since it’s a big subject) I am going to compare Western and Eastern medicine in their philosophy, understanding and methods. That is, I am going to try and look at how they compare in treating different conditions.

Good health to all of you,

Dr Ilan Shahor

About Chinese Medicine. Part I. “So, what is it that you do?”

I have often been asked this question, as one does, on social occasions and so on. To be honest these moments are one of the very rare occasions when I wish I was still working as a Western Doctor. It would be so much easier to say “I am a Paediatrician” or “I am a Urologist”. People know what those are; there are no awkward moments, unlike when I say “I’m a Chinese Medicine Practitioner”. (Oh, that’s interesting, so you stick needles in people?) Yes, pretty much, I stick needles in people for a living. You can see why it somehow makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Of course, Chinese medicine is much more than that: an established and extremely clever, beautifully constructed, multi faceted way of understanding everything about human health and sickness. It covers every aspect of health, physically, mentally and emotionally. It possesses a deep understanding of the processes of health and illness. It understands the factors that affect our health such as lifestyle, emotions, food, weather and so on. It is of course much too complicated to convey all of this in conversation over a dinner party. Usually, if I try, I soon have to stop as I can detect the puzzlement in the eyes of the person I’m chatting to.
“You need to write about it in your blog” my daughter told me. Yes, that makes more sense. I won’t have anyone’s confused look to stop me in my tracks, so I am going to give it a go. I will try to simplify things as much as possible, whilst still doing justice the important principles of T.C.M. (traditional Chinese medicine). Like everything in Chinese medicine it is all about keeping the balance.

The main parts of T.C.M. are Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and Tuina, which is the physiotherapy of Chinese medicine. Other associated methods are exercise, like QiGong and Tai Chi, nutrition, and lifestyle advice. All are very important and are used in my clinic, individually or in combination, according to the needs of each individual case.

Trying to simplify things (again) I will mainly discuss Acupuncture and herbal medicine, focusing in this first post of the series on general principles. But first: how did it all begin?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions, and justifiably so. Who came up with this crazy idea of sticking needles into people to make them feel better? The disappointing answer to this question is that we don’t know. Acupuncture was practised well before written history began. There has been no evidence found to help solve the mystery. The most likely theory is the idea came about when someone was accidentally stabbed by a sharp object, and experienced the unexpected effect of some sort of symptom being relieved. From that point onward began a patient process of trial and error to identify all the acupuncture points on the human body. It became clear that most of these points are located on a network of lines on the human body. They realised these lines (termed meridians) are the main pathway of the body’s energy (termed the Qi). Now, as long as the Qi energy is strong and is free to flow along the Meridians, all is good, we feel well and in good health. However, if the Qi is weak or blocked we will develop problems. Now, what can cause the Qi to struggle? Before I attempt to answer this question I would like to pause for a moment. Starting to talk about Qi and Meridians usually makes some people (particularly people with a scientific background) switch off. I can understand that, after all I used to think just like that myself in my early academic life. I would like to point out all of this knowledge regarding TCM theory is based on knowledge accumulated through trial and error, and careful observations over hundreds of years. It is not just a strange idea someone thought up in the shower. It is based on simple facts that are tried and tested, and that is one of the main reasons it is so effective!

As well as Acupuncture, the same is true for Chinese herbal medicine. We often hear in the media that Chinese people believe that this herb is good for that, and so on. Actually, it has nothing to do with belief and it has everything to do with sound science. The basic assumption was that since humans are part of nature, made of the same materials and using the same energy as the rest of nature, then there must be materials in the natural world that can help us when we get ill. How this works is explained more in my next blog, but a summary is that everything in nature exists in perfect balance, and so it is in the human body. If for some reason this balance has been disrupted we will feel it as an illness or as a symptom. The assumption was that there must be materials out there in nature which can redress these imbalances that are making us ill. With this in mind a great search began.

The ancient Chinese doctors have tried absolutely everything in the natural world to see the effect on the human body: plants, minerals and animals. More than that, when they tried a plant they tried the different parts of the plant separately: the roots, the stalk, the bark, the leaves, the flowers, the fruit (immature then mature), the peel, the stones- and so on. Then each of these can be prepared in a different way to achieve different effects. For example, it can be taken raw or dried or fried or fried in honey/vinegar/wine and so on. The same goes for animals. Every animal and every different part of every animal has been tested to see its effect on the human body. From this you can start to comprehend the huge variety of material tested over the years: hundreds of thousands, probably millions of substances. Out of these the Chinese medicine materia medica has been established, in which over 5000 materials have been identified as having a medicinal property.

A very important fact about this process of creating the materia medica is that these materials have been always tested by ancient doctors themselves and usually on themselves. Famous ancient TCM practitioners used to try new materials on themselves and report the effects. They used to go through hundreds of different materials and it wasn’t surprising that some of them got ill and even died in the process. It sounds terrible, but due to the sacrifices of these brilliant ancient scientists we have this enormous body of knowledge, regarding the effect of these herbs on the human body, and their ability to heal diseases and ease symptoms. The fact those doctors tested the herbs on themselves made the information much more reliable. Modern medicines are tested on animals. Very commonly they show a good result when tested on rats or monkeys but when they are used in humans problems start to appear.

To sum up this point: the use of Acupuncture needles and herbal medicine to help people with their medical problems is often viewed, in the West and in particular by the scientific establishment, with great suspicion. It is often referred to as: an untested and unproven method of treatment. This description could not be further from the truth in regard to Chinese medicine. Actually, the truth, as is often the case, is the complete opposite. Chinese medicine has been tried, tested and proven much more thoroughly than any modern method of treatment has. It is based on careful and patient observations and an accumulation of experience over hundreds of years. That is the reason why, despite never having the scientific knowledge and technology available to modern medical science, TCM is still much safer and, in many cases, a much more effective method of treatment than modern medicines!

Now, as we put this important point to bed, we can move on to trying to explain how it all works, and what is the logic behind it.

In my next blog I will try and do just that. I will try and make sense of terms like Qi, balance, yin, yang, heat and dampness. Hopefully then TCM will start to make more sense.

Have a good week,

How much does Medical Science actually know?

I was presented with this question by my Brother-in-law during a wedding meal. Danny is a deep thinker and his mind is preoccupied with these sorts of interesting questions, although his timing can sometimes be awkward. Working hard for many years in the financial sector probably created the need for his mind to wander towards more philosophical questions. My first reaction was to say: that is actually a very good question Danny. I meant it. In one form or another, this is an issue that I myself have been thinking about a lot. His actual words were: “what is the percentage of knowledge modern medicine possesses regarding the human body and human health in relation to the complete picture”? Under the circumstances I didn’t have much time to think it through. I just said 70:30- 70% known, 30% unknown. Ten, Danny replied, 10% known, 90% unknown. His complete self-confidence about the issue initially made me feel a bit uncomfortable. There I am, probably the person most qualified to answer this question. As a medical doctor I have a comprehensive understanding of modern medical science. On the other hand, practising Chinese medicine for 22 years now has made me acutely aware of the deficiencies and holes in the scientific medical understanding of the human body and of human health. Danny, however, is not a medical doctor and neither does he have any qualifications which relate in any way to the modern science of medicine. How can he be so confidant in his assessment of 90% / 10%? I passed these thoughts on to him, in a polite manner of course, so as not to create an insult. Luckily he wasn’t insulted at all, but he stuck to his assessment and gave me all sorts of explanations to support it. I am not sure that I understood (probably my concentration was waning away at that stage) but to my surprise, over the next few days, this question kept on popping into my head and I found myself increasingly preoccupied with it. I felt my initial assessment was probably biased. It has been influenced by an innate sense of respect for science. It seems incomprehensible to claim that scientific knowledge about the working of the body and the mechanism of disease and ailments is just a fraction of reality but is it? Most doctors believe that medicine and science know pretty much everything about the human body. On one level this is true. The knowledge about the chemical structure of the human body is almost complete and on that level we know exactly what we are made of and how we work.
However, if this is the whole picture then how come modern medicine can only cure a very small percentage of the diseases, ailments and symptoms that affect us? Most medical conditions can only be helped by suppressing symptoms. Medicine that actually has a beneficial effect on the progress of any chronic conditions is rare. Most of the medicines given for chronic conditions can help a bit with the symptoms but long term will do much more damage than good! If doctors have such a complete understanding of the human body then how come they can’t cure or even slow the progress of most chronic ailments? Something that Danny said came back to me then:10% is the fraction of diseases that doctors can actually cure. That’s where the figure of 10% knowledge came from. I remember studying pathology in medicine school. It was the first time the limitation of modern medicine started to hit home. I was reading the text book and was very surprised to see that with almost all the medical conditions under the title of aetiology (the cause of the condition) you can find a few entries, usually about six to eight. There was the Viral theory, the Environmental theory, the Lifestyle theory, the Genetic theory and so on. So which one of these is the cause of the condition? It has suddenly dawned on me that modern medical science simply doesn’t know, in most cases, why we are getting ill. Yes it can give a very accurate description of what is happening to the body when the disease is already active but the reason, the cause, the process that led to the rising up of the condition, is largely unknown! It wouldn’t be a great leap of logic to make the connection between the lack of knowledge about the aetiology of a condition and the lack of ability to find a cure for it. In other words, if you can only see the symptoms then you can only treat the symptoms.
The more I was thinking about it the more I was realising that the percentage of knowledge figures in my mind are gradually moving more towards Danny’s estimate of 10:90 and away from my over trusting 70:30. On top of the almost complete ignorance regarding the cause of disease there is the whole area of subtle influences on the human body- the movement of energy, heat, cold, dryness and dampness-these are basic considerations in my clinic on a daily basis yet are completely unknown to modern doctors. There is the subtle working of the organs e.g. the connection between the liver and the mood. Then there is the huge effect of the emotions and stress on our bodily function and health, and the link between spirituality and health. I am sure there are many other aspects that we don’t even know about. All have a massive importance in determining human health yet all are completely ignored by modern medical science. The list goes on and on. It is very clear to me that, regarding modern medical knowledge, the unknown is much bigger than the known. I wouldn’t like to put a figure or a percentage on it and of course I can’t be that accurate, but I think the principle is important. I always say that doctors are very important but they will be even better if they are more humble and honest with themselves regarding their limitations. The attitude of “I know everything there is to know about human health and therefore can and should treat every patient that is coming to my clinic” is, frankly, dangerous and damaging. It probably causes many unnecessary sufferings and deaths. Most modern medical treatments have, unfortunately, a wide range of side effects and should, in my opinion, be used only if other safer and less damaging treatments have not worked.
I feel this is why this question is so important. It has far reaching implications. Modern doctors should be educated to understand the fact that existing medical knowledge, as vast and impressive as it is, is far from being complete. They should be brought up to be humble and open in their approach to understanding and restoring human health. Most importantly they should be very aware of the damage caused by medications and procedures and of the fact that there are safe and effective alternatives.
These issues didn’t get a mention during my years in medical school and I suspect they don’t feature in current medical school curriculum’s. We can only hope this will change as people’s awareness and knowledge grows.

Best of health everyone,

The Pain

“Popular painkillers useless for backache” declares a headline in the Daily Mail. The Science Correspondent explains that Australian researchers found the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) for back pain (like Ibuprofen and Nurofen) is not effective and is dangerous due to side effects. The research was a review study, looking at and analysing data from many independent trials on the subject. This means its conclusion is much more reliable than an independent study and should be taken seriously.
I think the Daily Mail headline was exaggerated (what’s new?) –of course NSAID are not useless. They have their place and in some situations are needed and can be effective. I do, however, also think that they are colossally overused by GPs.

The basic problem with NSAID is similar to that of other modern medicines,they are:
a) Only treating the pain and not treating the problem that causes the pain. Therefore if the condition is chronic, the patient will need to continue taking the medicine for life, which leads us to:
b) These medicines can have unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. Around three thousand people die in the UK every year as a result of NSAID! So, why are they so commonly prescribed by GPs? The simple but surprising answer is that in the NHS framework they don’t really have many other options available to them. At the current time, if a patient is going to present to a GP with chronic pain (this can be from a joint or a muscle, a tendon or a ligament, it can be from osteoarthritis, chronic inflammation, organ malfunctions or any other reason) he has to follow certain guidelines. He will start with simple painkillers like Paracetamol, then progress to NSAID. If needed then stronger pills will be prescribed like Codeine, then neurological agents like Amitriptyline and Gabapentin and eventually opiates like Tramadol and Morphine. The stronger the drugs the more dangerous the side effects and, as mentioned earlier, none of these actually treat the problem that causes the pain and will therefore need to be taken continuously. Another increasingly used treatment for chronic pain is the steroid injection- exactly the same problems apply here as well.

So what is the reason we feel pain? Physical pain is most probably a feeling we developed through evolution to warn us about impending or actual tissue damage. If we are in a situation where tissue damage is impending or occurring we need to know about it so we can hopefully do something to stop, or at least reduce, the damage. Just as in some other ancient evolutionary mechanisms (stress for example), this one is a double edged sword- on the one hand it can save us from great tissue damage. On the other hand, in some cases of chronic pain, it is pretty much useless and causes a great deal of suffering without really having much benefit to our health or to our survival prospects. It is a bit of a conundrum as to why this may be but the reality is we are kind of stuck with it. Therefore, when chronic pain strikes, we need to try and understand it and its cause in any given case, so we can treat the cause as well as the pain itself whenever possible.

There are many different causes of chronic pain, but in order to keep things simple I am going to focus on musculoskeletal pain and its causes, and possible effective and safe treatments! In Chinese medicine, pain is felt when there is disturbance in the free flow of the body energy (Qi) and /or blood. Blocked Qi or blood causes pain. Acupuncture is highly effective in freeing the flow of blocked Qi and blood and therefore in improving pain but that is not enough. In every individual case of pain we have to look at what is the cause of the blockage. Let’s take a painful joint like the knee. The cause of pain (blockage) can be heat in the joint. When inflammation is present the knee then will feel hot. It can be an accumulation of fluid in the knee- in this case the knee will be swollen and stiff. It can be due to cold invading the knee- in these cases the pain will increase when exposed to cold weather. Another common cause of knee pain is weakness of the joint and this is usually due to weak kidneys. In this case it is common to also be suffering from low back pain and possibly other joint aches and general symptoms like tiredness or bladder symptoms. In each of these cases it is not enough just to free the flow of Qi and blood in order to relieve the pain, we also have to deal with the cause of the blockage as well. A good Acupuncturist will do just that and by so doing will achieve effective and long-lasting improvement in the pain.

This was just an example of the way Acupuncture treats pain and it applies to all types of pain. Whether it originates in the digestive system, gynaecological system, headaches and so on, the principle stays the same: treat the cause of the pain as well as the pain itself. By applying this principle Chinese medicine is a very effective treatment for most cases where the main symptom is pain. There are other therapies that must be mentioned particularly in the context of musculoskeletal pain. When the pain originates from problems in the alignment of the spine or the pelvis then a Chiropractor or an Osteopath will be very helpful. If the problems arise from particular muscle weakness or stiffness then stretching and/or strengthening exercises given by an experienced physiotherapist are important. For general maintenance of a healthy musculoskeletal system I warmly recommend regular pilates classes.

Whichever of these ways you choose to deal with your pain problems it must be a more intelligent solution than taking painkillers long-term from the Doctor. These therapies are very effective, extremely safe, can save lives (by avoiding the dangers posed by chronic use of painkillers) and much suffering. In most cases there is really no need to put poisonous medicines into your body

Is Complementary Medicine suitable for children?




I recently came across a headline in the paper which shouted “Children should never take complementary medicine”. I noticed that the story made it to other newspapers and to the evening news. The story was of a child who had been prescribed a mix of vitamins and herbal medicines by a so-called complementary medicine practitioner in London. The practitioner told the parents to continue with the medicine despite the fact that the child was getting increasingly ill and eventually ended up in hospital with dangerously high levels of calcium in his blood , probably due to overdosing on vitamin D. The story is shocking and is highlighting a problem in giving a child a high dose of vitamins. However, to jump from this to a conclusion that children should never take complementary medicine is very wrong. Actually, I believe the truth to be the complete opposite. Everything that makes me believe that people should use less medications and more natural cures is true for the treatment of children just as it is in the case of adults. Problems like toxicity, addiction and dependency  are just as bad, if not more so, when the children are patients. The fact that most of the medicines prescribed by Doctors are for the symptoms only and have no effect on the progress of a condition is the same for children.  It is therefore common sense to try and save our children from the use of medicine, where possible, by treating them with a natural, healthy and safe treatment.



However, I am completely aware of the sensitivity when it comes to children, and also of the problems and fears parents have regarding taking their child to a practitioner who is not an NHS Doctor.



So, is there a real problem with the use of complementary medicine (CM) with children? I have to admit that my research into the matter brought up some unpleasant revelations. I found a few documented cases where children who had been treated with CM ended up very ill. There were even two cases of death. After a closer look at these cases a clearer picture started to emerge. Almost all of these children were very young (under 2 years old). A few of them had a very serious medical condition to start with (this includes the two cases of mortality). In many cases, the reason for the children’s deterioration was considered to be the fact that that they had stopped their conventional medication, prescribed by the doctor and not the CM medicines (also here the two cases of mortality are included). In all the cases I looked at the practitioner who treated the children was described as an Complentary Medicine Practitioner.



Looking at these horrifying cases how can I still justify my earlier statement that children should be treated with complementary medicine? To try and explain let’s look back at these cases. There are a few very important points:


  1. a) The numbers: These cases are extremely rare in comparison to the number of children who suffer serious reactions and death as a result of the use of conventional medicine prescribed by the Doctors. In the paper article the eminent doctor declared “Complementary Medicine is not completely safe”. Of course it’s not. Nothing is completely safe-but it’s still a lot safer than conventional medicine.


  1. b) In most of these cases the children were very young (under 2 years old). We have to be more careful treating babies. The smaller the body the bigger the risk if there is an adverse reaction to a treatment. In Chinese Medicine the treatment of children carries a different set of rules and considerations to the treatment of an adult. I would suggest to parents who are considering taking their babies for a treatment to choose their practitioner carefully. Only take your baby to a practitioner who is well qualified and has a vast experience in treating young children and babies.


  1. c) A large number of the children who had a serious reaction to CM treatment had a serious medical condition. Children with a serious medical diagnosis, in my opinion, should only be treated with CM by a Practitioner who is also a Medical Doctor in order for them to have a good understanding of their condition.


  1. d) In many of these cases the reason for the deterioration was in stopping the conventional medicine given by the Doctor. I cannot stress it enough: a CM Practitioner should NEVER stop a patient taking his medication, prescribed by his G.P. or specialist, unless the CM Practitioner is a medical doctor himself. I am a medical doctor and still I will not make my patients stop taking their medicine without the agreement of their G.P.


  1. e) This point may sound strange but I think it is actually very important. In all the cases I was looking at, the practitioner who was treating the child was described as a Complementary Medicine Practitioner. I don’t really know what that means and I am not sure that something like this actually exists – and if it does I most certainly would not let one treat my child. Complementary medicine is a whole range of different disciplines; a practitioner can be a Homeopath, Herbalist, Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, and so on. They all belong in the general field of CM but are completely specialised and different to each other. To paint them all as being the same with sentences like “children should never be treated with complementary medicine” is absurd. It shows a lack of understanding and respect of the issue and it is also extremely unscientific. On the other hand there may actually be people who describe their practice as CM Practitioners: again, I’m not sure what it is but I will stay well away.


To sum up: I definitely think that treating children with different types of complementary medicine is a very positive thing as long as we follow some common sense guide lines: make sure the practitioner is well-qualified, registered and experienced in working with children. Children with serious medical conditions should only be seen by a practitioner who is also a medical doctor and never stop prescribed medicine unless instructed to do so by a doctor. If you follow these guidelines I am sure your child will benefit from safe and effective treatment. I have often used CM with my children over the years- they have had treatment with homeopathy, Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and chiropractic, all with great results. For small children I am particularly fond of homeopathy, being gentle and being tasteless make the medicines very easy to administer to children.


I hope this post will help to dispel any fears arising due to medical science ignorance of the subject. Our children deserve it.






The Miracle of Fertility and the Mystery of Infertility Part 3: Recurrent Miscarriage and IVF.

Image result for ivf baby
Today I am going to discuss both recurrent miscarriage and IVF and how Chinese medicine can help.  The two are not necessarily related and the reason they are both discussed in the same post is that they are probably too small to fill a post by themselves.
I will start with the heart-breaking condition of recurrent miscarriage. It is defined as having more than two miscarriages without the presence of a medical condition to explain them. In some cases, when the miscarriages are late in the pregnancy, the doctor can help with a procedure that tightens up the cervix. In cases where Auto Immune factors are suspected the doctor will prescribe steroids to calm down the over-active immune system. In the cases where blood clotting problems are thought to be the cause, the doctor’s treatment will be with blood thinners like Aspirin or Clexane. Those treatments can be helpful at times but often they can not. Another problem is that often the lady won’t be suffering from any of the above but still won’t be able to keep a healthy pregnancy. For a woman it is an extremely frustrating and upsetting situation. In Chinese medicine, as it is in the case of infertility, we have a much more subtle understanding of recurrent miscarriages. Practically all of the women I have seen over the years with this problem did not have any medical diagnosis to explain their predicament and therefore weren’t offered any treatment from the doctor. Most of them were able to have a healthy pregnancy and birth after a course of treatment with Chinese medicine! How come? Again, as is the case in the treatment of infertility, we first try and identify the reason for the recurrent miscarriages from a Chinese medicine point of view. The most common cause for “unexplained” recurrent miscarriages is weakness of the kidney energy (Qi). This energy is crucial in our ability to nourish the foetus and in maintaining pregnancy. Women with low kidney Qi will often feel very tired when pregnant with a tendency to low back pain and to feeling cold. However, sometimes there will be no symptoms except the miscarriage. Another problem with recurrent miscarriage due to weak kidney Qi is that every miscarriage by itself drains a lot of the kidney energy. This causes a vicious circle in a way in that the more you try the worse it gets. Since after every miscarriage it gets worse then, in these situations, our only choice is to stop trying for at least 6 months. During this time the patient will take a course of Chinese herbs and acupuncture specifically to strengthen her kidneys’ energy. This situation can be a bit tricky. Understandably it is often hard for the patient to stop trying to conceive for 6 months. The biological clock is ticking and time is so precious but, in this situation, it is the only way to allow the kidney Qi to recover with the help of Chinese medicine. There can be other causes of recurrent miscarriage such as circulation problems, overheating or weakness of the blood. In each of these cases accurate diagnosis and choosing the correct treatment is crucial. This treatment is often successful.
IVF and Chinese medicine:
The effectiveness of Acupuncture in increasing the success rate of IVF is well established. A comprehensive review study has concluded that Acupuncture Treatment increases the chances of successful IVF by nearly 70%. The scientists who conducted the study remarked that they didn’t really understand in what way the Acupuncture helps but they made a guess that it is probably through improving the blood circulation to the womb. They weren’t that far off.
 So, how is it that Acupuncture helps IVF? When treating an IVF patient, the body’s regulation of hormones, which is so important for fertility, becomes insignificant. The reason for this is that during the month leading up to the IVF the doctor will completely take over the control of the hormones. The body has nothing to do with it anymore. In the case of IVF the best thing we can do to help is to help with the quality of the Endometrium, which is the covering of the Uterus. It tends to be extremely rich in blood vessels. If we can improve the supply and the movement of blood in the Uterus we will improve the endometrium quality and that will allow a much better chance for successful implantation of the fertilised egg which has been put back in the womb. So, blood is the focus. There are, however, other areas which can improve-such as the temperature of the womb, the movement of the energy (Qi) and the kidney energy which is so important in conceiving and the development of the baby in the uterus. With an IVF patient we are going to work on and improve all of these factors in the run-up to the IVF. The results are a near 70% rise in IVF success.
This is the last post in the series about fertility. I would just like to add that there is nothing that gives me more joy, during work at the clinic, than hearing a fertility patient telling me that they are pregnant. There is something very special about helping to bring new life into this world. I remember when I used to work as a doctor in the hospital-most hospital wards were places full of misery and suffering. There was just one ward that had a lot of joy and happiness on a regular basis: it was, of course, the Obstetrics ward. In my clinic I treat couples for fertility problems on a regular basis but I always feel I would like to help more. I am concerned about ladies who have not received any help and would recommend for any couples experiencing problems with fertility to have a course of Chinese medicine. You do, however, have to be a bit careful with your choice of Practitioner. It is a fairly specialised subject so you want to make sure that your TCM practitioner is qualified and experienced in treating infertility.
Good luck with it,

Hormone Replacement Therapy – The consequences and the alternatives.


Hi everyone. The recent study that found an almost threefold rise in breast cancer in women who use HRT is the reason for the break in my fertility-related posts. I just had to write something about it. It demonstrates so much of the wrongs of modern medicine; unfortunately we see this pattern repeat itself again and again. It goes like this: a new medicine comes to the market. Early research claims it is beneficial and effective. Doctors get excited and increasingly prescribe the new miracle drug to unsuspecting patients who are looking for relief from their symptoms. As the years pass, more and more data regarding the use of the medicine becomes available and a fresh picture emerges. The miracle drug may be efficient in reducing the symptoms but it carries a risk of dangerous long and short term side effects. This was the case in many of the well known and widely used medicines such as aspirin, omeprazole, diclofenac and many others.

HRT was introduced in the eighties and quickly became a hit. Books were written at the time claiming that Oestrogen can give you back your youth and people genuinely believed that it stopped the aging process; the list of health and well-being benefits grew by the day! The idea was, since the level of Oestrogen tends to suddenly drop around the age of 50 causing all sorts of symptoms, replacing these hormones would turn the clock back. It would make you look and feel young again. Sounds like a perfectly good and sensible idea. The problem here is that the drop in the level of Oestrogen in a woman’s blood around the age of 50 is a natural process; it is part of human evolvement with age. Like other human body processes it has developed through millions of years of evolution for a good reason. If there was any advantage in keeping the level of Oestrogen the same throughout our lives then evolution would have designed us that way.

This actually is another type of pattern in modern medicine: every time we think we are cleverer than nature, that we can change something in the original human design, we ultimately fail. A good example for that is the use of aspirin as a prevention of heart disease. The idea to give aspirin to all people over the age of 50, to prevent heart conditions, lay in the assumption that the normal human blood is too thick and tends to clot and create problems such as heart attacks for example. The idea was to take aspirin to thin the blood which will then make it less likely to clot and therefore prevent heart problems. It took more than 40 years for the scientists to take a good hard look at the data accumulated over the years and to conclude that the use of aspirin in healthy people as a prevention actually causes more deaths from bleeding and kidney problems than it saves from heart conditions.

The position with HRT was similar. There is a sudden drop in the level of Oestrogen in the woman’s blood and therefore it makes sense to give her Oestrogen to supplement the levels. Really they were asking for trouble-and trouble came. In the first few years the good news just kept on coming and it was claimed that the use of HRT not only made you feel better but it also protected you from heart disease, strokes and several types of cancer-a win ,win situation. However, as time passed, more and more worrying reports about possible dangerous effects have surfaced. Here is another massive problem of modern medicine: all (and I mean all) the short and medium term studies into the effects of a new medicine are being conducted by the company that develops the medicine. This company has already invested tens of millions of pounds in their product and are extremely keen for it to pay for their investment and make a handsome profit. These studies are highly suspicious. There are many cases in the past where pharmaceutical companies have been found to hide unfavourable results, to misinterpret data and to design studies in a way that will show favourable results. One famous case that comes to mind is when the American manufacturer of the antidepressant Prozac was taken to court by the family of a man who took his own life and killed a few others whilst on the medicine (it was completely out of character). The family solicitor got a warrant to look around the manufacturer’s paperwork. To his amazement he discovered that studies which had been conducted by the pharmaceutical company showed a significant increase in violent behaviour and suicides in people using this medicine but that these studies had never been published! The pharmaceutical company knew then that their medicine increased suicides and violent behaviour and they actively hid it. Even more disturbingly, these findings were more common in adolescents. This case has sent a shudder through the medicine world, and the prescribing of this antidepressant to teenagers has been stopped. However, shocking as it may sound, this practice is not unusual and can partially explain why the initial studies of a new medicine are so different to the long-term ones! The long-term ones are not being conducted by the pharmaceutical companies but by Epidemiologists. Epidemiologists are specialists in collecting and analysing data from medical institutions and archives; they are usually public workers and are therefore under no pressure or bias regarding the outcome of their study. These types of studies are called review studies and are considered to be the gold standard of Medical Research.

When these studies started to collect and analyse data on HRT treatment the problems started to come out of the woodwork. Almost everything that was claimed at the start with regard to the effects of HRT was shown to be wrong! It was found that there is actually a raised risk of heart conditions, strokes and cancer with the use of HRT. Astonishing.

It may surprise some people but actually I am not completely against the use of HRT or other doctors’ medications for that matter. We often take risks in life and it’s no different in the case of taking modern medicine. It is ok if a person chooses to take the risk of a side effect, as long as they are made to feel better when taking the medicine; but: this patient choice must be an informed one and based on all the information available. When a woman is offered HRT treatment (or any other medicine) she has to be informed on two very important issues:

1) All the possible consequences of taking the medicine (increased risk of cancer, heart problems, etc)-which the doctors never do.

2) There are alternatives to HRT- again, which the doctors never do.

There are safe alternatives to HRT. I treat women with menopausal symptoms on a fairly regular basis, with Chinese herbs and/or Acupuncture, with very good success. I know from my colleague, a Western Herbalist, that her herbs are very effective as well.

There is no need to risk your health in order to feel better. Doctors must give patients all the information as not doing so is, in my view, criminal.