Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs – Do They Really Work? Part I: Chinese Medicine, Stress, and Self-Healing


Chinese Medicine claims it can treat most any health problem from insomnia, depression and sprained ankles to boils, constipation and infertility. How is it possible that sticking hair-thin needles into seemingly random points on the body and prescribing  something as safe and natural as an “herb” can help propel an individual toward health?




This blog post is the first in a series that provides one view on how Chinese Medicine works, and why it is so effective. I refer to some western biomedical explanations and research studies as guide posts.

I begin with the topic of stress–one of the most all pervasive maladies of our time and something that Chinese Medicine is so helpful at alleviating.

First, Why Lowering Stress is So Important & The Effect of Acupuncture:

The consequences of chronic stress are serious. Chronically stressed individuals can develop high blood pressure, cardiac disease, poor immune system functioning, digestive issues, poor sleep, reduced fertility, anxiety, muscle pain, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, relationship troubles…the list goes on and on. In fact, some research attributes chronic stress as the cause of nearly seventy percent of all diseases. (Check out this article for a more comprehensive list of stress-related conditions.)

During an acupuncture treatment, most people fall into a state of deep relaxation. A patient might fall asleep, and some joke that they come to acupuncture just for a nap. But, while naps are great — especially in our sleep deprived society — so much more is happening at the prompting of a few needles.

A study at Georgetown University, published in the Journal of Endocrinology, measured stress hormones following acupuncture. They found that acupuncture blocks the hormones associated with chronic and acute stress.

A growing body of evidence also supports the notion that acupuncture has a protective effect against the stress response following treatment — it will help you to manage day to day stressors less in that “fight or flight” state and more in a space of calm, grounded wellbeing that helps to keep your body healthy. Without so much stress, your immune system works better!



That said, if all acupuncture did was reduce the stress response — which it has been proven to do — the treatment would be worth it for that alone!

But that is not all that acupuncture does.


No Medicine on the Needles — The “Placebo Effect” and “Self Healing”

I recently read that some patients may think there is medicine on the needles and that is their explanation for how acupuncture works — an outside substance is introduced into the body to cure it. I had never considered that possibility before — that a patient might think we are injecting them with something — until the very next day, after I’d read that, a patient new to acupuncture asked me the very same question! “Is there medicine on the needles?” he wanted to know when his chronic knee pain disappeared after one treatment.

No, there is not medicine on the needles; the medicine is in your body. 

The concept of self-healing seems to cause some discomfort in the biomedical community. They have a term for self-healing — they call it “the placebo effect.” But I call the “placebo effect” something different – self-healing.

Why should self-healing such a revolutionary concept? The body is so amazing! We are equipped to self heal in many commonly accepted instances. Can you imagine what we would look like if we didn’t have the power to heal ourselves from cuts, scraps, bruises, and broken bones!? How would we feel if we couldn’t fight off all the colds and flus we’ve ever had? What would happen if we could not get over food poisoning or a hangover? We wouldn’t last very long and we certainly would not look very good! Sure, there are medicines (and foods!) that can help us to heal from these ailments more quickly, but it is the body that ultimately brings us back to a state of health. One big aspect of this self-healing “magic” is the immune system.



(Click here to read a review of seven clinical trials that show the positive impact of acupuncture on the immune system of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.)

Chinese Medicine acknowledges the self healing mechanisms of the body and promotes those mechanisms. Any honest practitioner will tell you that they are not actually healing you — we are simply nudging your body’s natural abilities to heal itself. In cases where the body is too weakened, or where there is a deeply rooted long-term illness, beyond our body’s natural capacity to heal, we often introduce herbal remedies to give the patient extra resources to bring itself back to homeostasis.

So how are the needles actually working? And what’s all this talk about “energy”? The next entry of the Crow Heart Acupuncture blog will address the topic of “energy” — an essential concept in Chinese Medicine. Is “energy” 
real, or just new age garbage?


Still Not Convinced? Don’t Knock it Til You Try It!

There are many choices of acupuncturists available, from community acupuncture to the spa-like treatments at what some call “boutique” acupuncture clinics. Crow Heart Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs is a General Practice that provides in-depth, individualized treatments at a reasonable price. We believe health is everyone’s right and provide treatments at a reduced rate for certain populations who serve the public and are under an inordinate amount of stress: fire fighters, police officers, paramedics, and public school teachers. 


Please visit our website for more information


Reach us by email or phone to schedule an appointment or receive a free 15 minute phone consultation.



Spring is Here! (Then Why Do I Feel So Grumpy?)

It’s beautiful outside in the Bay Area. So why do so many of us feel so grumpy?

Liver Man

Today technically marks the first day of spring.

As we’ve seen this year, all around the country there has been some unusual weather — the East Coast had one of the worst winters on record, while the Bay Area has had warmer winter weather than we get most summers!

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These odd patterns are confusing to our bodies and makes paying attention to the seasons, and their effect on our minds and bodies, even more important.

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Part of what makes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) so effective is that at its core it still recognizes that humans are part of nature and follow the natural cycles — just like plants and other animals. In TCM we continually take note of the seasons and the weather, and the effect they may be having on our health and sense of well being.


In winter many plants and animals go dormant or hibernate. It is important to conserve energy during winter, in order to recharge ourselves for the longer days of spring and summer. In our world today, we typically don’t tone down our activities much during the winter – ideally the work day would shorten, our social would lives quiet down, and we would spend more time sleeping and resting.

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Since we did not have much of a winter this year, the signal to draw inward and hibernate was not very strong; the need for rest and slowing down was likely ignored — how can you hibernate when the sun is shining!


Now that spring has sprung, those of us who did not recharge ourselves during winter may struggle with energy and mood. In springtime, mood can often be a problem anyway.

The spring is all about movement and growth. Look to the plants — the trees are growing back their leaves, flowers are blooming, the birds are singing and it’s time to plant the garden. There can be so much spring energy in our bodies we are not sure what to do with it. What happens when you want to move but feel constricted? It’s very frustrating!

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According to TCM, it’s Liver Time!

What is Liver Time?

The organ, in Chinese Medicine philosophy, that is associated with the spring is the Liver. The liver is responsible for the free flow of energy (or “qi”) in the body. Without smooth flow, there is frustration. Therefore, the negative emotion associated with the liver is anger (the flip side of this– if all is well–is compassion). So, in the spring amidst the longer days and sunshine, we may be wondering why we feel so frustrated, angry, or stuck. Grrr!

If you want to know what it looks like to be ruled by your “liver,” think of baby. It is said that of all the TCM organ systems, the most developed in a baby is the liver. Fussy, crying, moving around…sometimes there is just nothing that can calm them.

How to Calm the Liver:

What can you do to release yourself from the grumpy energy of the Liver? Move it! And soothe it.

*Stretch!: Take some yoga classes, tai chi, qi gong, or just wake up in the morning and do some stretches in your house for fifteen minutes.

*Exercise: Go for a walk, a run, plant a garden, get to the gym, ride your bike, do some push ups.

*Eat greens: The color associated with the liver, and with spring, is green. Add more leafy greens to your diet – dandelion greens and sprouts are particularly good to eat at this time of year. Milk thistle tea is also a good choice.

*Eat sour: Add some apple cider vinegar to your salad, add lemon slices to your water, have a dill pickle, eat some plain yogurt. (Sour is flavor of the liver and it moves the energy.)

*Get some acupuncture!: Acupuncture can help move this stuck energy, reduce your stress levels, and nourish you if you did not get enough downtime during the winter. This way you can enjoy the spring time more!

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But I’m Grumpy ALL the Time (or know someone who is)!

What if you feel grumpy all the time–not just in the spring? There are two good possibilities– the first is that your “Liver” (in the TCM sense of the word) needs some attention. Acupuncture and herbs can really help! The second is that you may also be a “Wood” type personality. Each person has a predominant personality associated with an element – Wood, Fire, Earth, Air, or Water. And each element is associated with an organ. Wood is the element of the spring and of the liver.

Are you a Liver Type?

Wood types (liver types) are pioneers. They love adventure, are independent, and are our reformers, revolutionaries and innovators.They are action-oriented individuals. Wood types like to be the very best, the one and only, and will work with great determination to this end. Like any trait, there are positives and negatives. Wood types, when out of balance, tend to be impatient, intolerant, volatile, easy to anger. They often suffer from headaches, muscle spasms, high blood pressure, inflammatory nerve conditions, and migrating pains. They tend to abuse sedatives and stimulants in order to calm themselves or to provide the energy they need to be the best. For wood types who out of balance, spring can be a challenging time (for them and for the people around them!).

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Periodic acupuncture treatments and herbal remedies will be effective in rebalancing that energy.

The moral of the story here is that it can be quite normal to feel grumpy in the spring. But we have tools to help soothe the beast so you can enjoy the sunshine and growth and start smiling again.

Make an appointment today!

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Crow Heart Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs is located in the Rockridge area of Oakland at 66th and Telegraph. To make an appointment, email or call 510-919-5689. Treatments are gentle, affordable, and effective!