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Research Update: Chronic Pain

In May 2018, a team of researchers from the Acupuncture Trialists Collaboration published an update to previous chronic pain research in the Journal of Pain, the journal associated with the American Pain Society. The new article updates a study first released in 2008 that looked at acupuncture as a treatment for four chronic pain conditions. The updated study now includes data from nearly 21,000 patients.

The new study confirms what was shown in the researchers’ previous work: acupuncture relieved pain and improved function when compared with sham acupuncture and not receiving any acupuncture. The researchers also showed that the effects persisted over at least a 12-month period. This study adds to the body of literature that suggests acupuncture can be a viable treatment for chronic pain, and the findings cannot be explained solely by placebo effects since they did not observe significant changes in the group that received sham acupuncture.

Chronic pain affects approximately 50 million Americans or just over 20 percent of the adult population, according to a study from the Center for Disease Control released in September 2018. That statistic, when combined with the growing opioid epidemic in the United States led one of the country’s largest health-insurance providers, Blue Cross Blue Shield, to start covering acupuncture as an alternative to opioids. The change went into effect January 1, 2019.

Acupuncture relieves pain by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals, at the acupoints in which the needles are inserted. Licensed acupuncturists can access the specific areas of their patients’ bodies that are causing them pain by inserting needles at acupoints connected to those painful areas. Acupuncture may also help relieve pain by affecting the area of the brain that governs serotonin, a chemical in the brain involved in regulating our moods.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture meridian points activate the body’s innate healing abilities acupuncturists call Qi (chee). According to TCM, Qi is the vital energy that animates the body and protects it from illness. Qi flows through pathways called meridians and provides nourishment to the body’s cells, tissues, muscles, organs, and glands. When there is an imbalance or blockage in the flow of Qi, symptoms such as chronic pain may appear.

If you or someone you know suffers from chronic pain, suffer no more! Contact Heidi in Duluth MN to learn how she may be able to help you find relief in an all-natural way with no risk of harmful side effects.


Pain News Network Article
Daily Memphian Article

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Effects of Acupuncture on Quality of Life in Patient with Depression

A study published by the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine and conducted by the West China Center of Medical Sciences in 2015, found acupuncture treatments can be effective in the treatment of patients suffering from depression. According to the study, 163 participants were divided into three groups. Each group received differing forms of treatment utilizing acupuncture or acupuncture and other accessory modalities, twice a week, for a total of 12 weeks. The scale of life was used to evaluate the results at four different times, which allowed for the patients quality of life to be objectively followed and determined. There were eight specific items that were evaluated after each acupuncture treatment, thus leading to the overall quality of life score. The items evaluated were physical function, bodily pain, physical role, general physical condition, social function, energy, mental health and emotional function. The study showed the overall quality of life score was improved significantly in all three groups.

Depression is defined as a mental disorder characterized by feelings of dejection and severe despondency. Worldwide, nearly 350 million people suffer from depression and nearly 16 million of those are in the United States alone. Statistics show women tend to be more likely to experience depression and young adults between the ages of 18-22 are also at a higher risk. Symptoms of depression include extreme irritability over minor issues, anxiety, restlessness, irrational anger, lack of interest in everyday activities, thoughts of death, insomnia, severe fatigue, weight gain/loss, difficulty concentrating and unexplained aches and pains. When these symptoms occur for more than a few weeks, depression may be the reason behind them.

As shown in the aforementioned study, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is very effective in treating depression, not only short-term, but also long-term. Modern medicine usually treats depression with antidepressants and psychotherapy regardless of the presenting symptoms. In contrast, TCM diagnoses each patient on an individual basis and treats the specific symptoms, while also addressing the root of the illness. TCM incorporates multiple modalities such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, tuina massage, cupping and exercises like qigong to help restore balance to the body. Traditional Chinese medicine also treats the person holistically instead of treating mind and body separately.

The theory behind treating depression using TCM, all revolves around the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”). Qi is considered the vital energy that flows through the body and animates everything. When Qi is blocked or stagnant, illness can take root, either physically or mentally. Qi flows throughout the body on energetic pathways or meridians. Each energetic meridian is associated with an organ and each organ has its own emotion. For example, the emotion of the liver meridian is anger. When Qi is blocked and liver Qi stagnation occurs, anger can then manifest. From the same standpoint, if a person is excessively angry, the flow of Qi can be blocked creating stagnation.
Acupuncture releases endorphins and activates natural pain killers. By doing so, it improves the flow of Qi throughout the body while eliminating blockages and bringing balance to the mind and body. Endorphins counter the symptoms of depression and allow the person to resume a normal life.

If you are suffering from depression and are looking for a natural way of dealing with it, contacting Heidi at (218) 724-3400 might be exactly what you need. She can help you navigate the waters of depression without the harmful side effects of pharmaceuticals, while helping you get back to a happier life.

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Self-Care Tips To Manage Depression

If there is a suspected diagnosis of depression, it is always recommended to get some form of professional care. As one navigates treatment with a professional, it is also important to incorporate as much self-care as possible. In general Chinese Medicine terms, depression is thought to be caused by a stagnation or deficiency of qi (energy) resulting in an imbalance of the yin and yang forces in the body. Here are some suggestions for assisting your body back into balance from this perspective:


Your lungs are a source of qi as they draw in oxygen. Deep breaths can not only refill our qi reserves but deep, slow breathing is actually a form of VNS (Vagus Nerve Stimulation), a way to calm the body via the main parasympathetic nerve and improve mood.


Gentle exercise is one of the best ways to prevent qi stagnation in the body. A daily walk can make a huge difference for mental health. Lowintensity exercise sustained over time has been shown to stimulate neurogenesis: the growth of new nerve cells and connections. Neurogenesis is currently recognized as a major factor in lasting mood improvement. Qi Gong is a meditative movement practice and one of the five branches of Chinese Medicine. A regular practice can be beneficial in the treatment and prevention of depression.


Avoid stagnation by cutting back on excess sugar, gluten, dairy and fried foods as well as over-processed foods with chemical-laden ingredient lists. Source clean, organic grass-fed meats. Choose vibrant colored (antioxidant rich) fruits and veggies, and get seasonal organic produce when possible. Don’t forget to chew slowly (savor the flavors!) to let your body breakdown and absorb the nutrients properly. Let food replenish you.


For the correct balance of yin and yang in the body, it is best to be active during the day, slow down in the evening and sleep at night. Disrupted sleep cycles have been correlated with increased frequency of depressive episodes. For sleep struggles, try some chamomile tea a couple hours before bedtime to help the body transition. Practice good sleep hygiene by turning off artificial lights at night and any stimulating noises.


Make time for healthy relationships with trusted friends or family members. If those are limited, seek out a support group where you can connect on a deeper level with others. In Chinese medicine, the shen, or spirit resides in the heart, and the heart energy is uplifted by social bonds and mutual understanding. We need to feel connected to be healthy and happy.


In Chinese medicine, our sensory orifices, such as our eyes, ears, nose and mouth are considered external receptors for our organ systems. Healthy organ function requires these portals of perception to be open and receiving information. So, look around! Take in the colors of your environment!, listen to the birds in the morning or healing sound therapy frequencies in the evening (Google it, it’s a thing!), smell the roses, taste your food! Remember all the ways you are interacting with the world around you. This will rejuvenate your organ systems and encourage better overall energetic balance.


Move stagnation by pressing Liver 3: the point in the angle between the first` and second toe bones on the top of the foot. Nourish qi and blood with Stomach 36, the point in the dip a few fingerswidths down the shin from the corner of the kneecap. And send love to the depths of your soul through the “Inner Gate”: Pericardium 6, located on the inside of the wrist, about two fingerwidths up from the palm.

Calling your acupuncturist to schedule an appointment is always an important self-care step. They can support you in your other self-care efforts while helping you to regain energetic balance. So call us at (218) 724-3400 to schedule an appointment today.

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What’s Your Depression Type?

If this question were posed in a conventional doctor’s office today, one may receive an answer such as: Major Depression or Manic Depression or even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), among other differentiations. But if you are suffering from depression and asked your Chinese Medicine Practitioner: ‘what type of depression do I have?’, you would get a very different kind of answer. Here, we will look at the ways depression can manifest from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) perspective.

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, one or more of the patterns described may be relatable and help increase your understanding of the individualized TCM approach to recovery.

*With any TCM breakdown of patterns, it is important to note that we are all dynamic creatures, not always fitting into neatly divided categories. Our health experience represents an interplay of forces, so while we may lean towards one type of pathology, we may find ourselves in multiple categories and also changing patterns as we heal.

Stagnation Patterns

Liver Qi Stagnation
If your experience of depression has an overriding tone of frustration, your liver may be the main culprit. The liver has the important job of maintaining a smooth flow of qi in the body. If it is compromised and fails to achieve this, feelings of irritability and being ‘stuck’ can predominate. When taxed the liver will often ‘attack’ the digestion leading to stomach pain, belching, diarrhea and/or constipation.

Qi Stagnation Turns to Heat
If qi stagnation is left untreated, more severe issues can arise. One way we recognize this is when we see signs of qi stagnation with additional signs of heat. This can manifest as more extreme versions of the initial qi stagnation symptoms, such as irritability flaring to “hot-tempered” outbursts of anger, or digestive issues like heartburn or constipation becoming more disruptive. Also as ‘heat rises’, we may see a red face and red eyes accompanied by headaches and tinnitus.

Qi Stagnation with Phlegm Accumulation
If the qi can not move smoothly through the body assisting in the transport of nutrients, fluids, and toxins, we get buildup. This can look like what we call ‘phlegm accumulation’ and can feel like a lump in the throat, or a feeling of irritability with sluggishness. Other signs include weight gain, thick tongue coat, and growths such as lipomas. Phlegm can also disturb the ‘shen’, the consciousness or spirit that resides in the heart. This can play out as manic behaviors, such as witnessed in schizophrenia or bipolar depression.

Deficient Patterns

Heart/Spleen/Lung Qi Deficiency
We can look at these organs separately but also as a group when it comes to depression.The picture they paint together when depleted is one of sadness and anxiety, simultaneously restless and fatigued. Forgetfulness and insomnia point to more heart deficiency. Spleen signs could be more digestive with a tendency to worry a lot. Sadness predominates in Lung qi deficiency. The lungs are responsible for immunity so the more grief we carry the more immune issues we may face. These 3 deficient organ patterns often go hand in hand, and can make for a miserable day-to-day experience for a patient suffering with this type of depression.

Yin Deficiency with Empty Fire
Patterns of deficiency are often at the root of chronic cases of depression, and especially a deficiency of yin: the cooling, calming, restorative energy of the body. A lack of cooling energy allows for what is called “empty fire” or heat due to deficiency. This translates to restlessness, anxiety, palpitations, night sweats, dizziness, and an achy weak back and knees.

To help break down your diagnosis further by someone who can appreciate the complexity of your health experience, schedule your next acupuncture session at (218) 724-3400 and enjoy Heidi’s treatment that honors your unique balance.

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Depression: TCM vs. Western

In the West, until very recently, Depression has been oversimplified and described as a chemical imbalance, mainly of the neurotransmitter Serotonin. In actuality, there appears to be no link between measurable serotonin concentration and depression. The ‘chemical imbalance’ theory fails to recognize the complexity of our human systems. There is such a dynamic interplay of chemical and physiological forces throughout the brain and body that affect our moods and how we perceive life. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) theory sees this in terms of energy balancing. The energy balance is affected by many factors, including stress, sleep, exercise, diet, genetics, physical and emotional trauma, toxins and pathogens. Basically, anything that can disrupt the natural flow of the qi (energy) of the body can be a factor in the development and prognosis of Depression.

In the Western world, depression, characterized by episodes of sadness, irritability and loss of interest, is generally treated with medication, talk therapy, or both. However, as many as 34% of those with depression don’t improve with medication or therapy and as many as half will experience depression again despite ongoing treatment. The severity of this disease is highlighted in the fact that over 700,000 people worldwide (at least 45,000 within the US alone ) die due to suicide every year.

Commonly prescribed medications boost the concentration of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, in the brain, based on the premise that the rise in neurotransmitter levels will lift the depression. However, improvement only comes after weeks on the drugs, not immediately as it would if it were the direct result of chemical concentrations. New theories suggest that the anti-depressive effects of these medications are actually a result of nerve growth and new neural connections, a process that takes weeks. In fact, animal studies have shown that antidepressants do provoke new nerve cell growth and connections. So it seems one key in the treatment of depression is the stimulation of neurogenesis: creating new pathways for information exchange.

While these medications show some benefits for this reason, they come with a price. More than half of the people who take antidepressants report side effects such as headaches, dizziness, brain fog, weight gain, sleep disorders, sexual, digestive and skin issues among others. Even suicidal thoughts can increase from both the introduction of antidepressents as well as the challenges of withdrawal.

Meanwhile, TCM practitioners focus on the bigger picture of energy balance. They take a very individualized approach to healing, recognizing that every person is unique and changing. They recognize the stagnation that causes depression can have numerous causes and the way it affects each person can vary. Qi stagnation mainly affecting the liver can cause strong feelings of anger and irritability. People with more anxiety and insomnia may have qi stagnation patterns affecting the heart or spleen. Chronic cases of depression are often related to a deficiency of yin: the cooling, calming, restorative energy of the body.

Acupuncture is just one of the tools TCM practitioners use to help correct qi flow. It has been shown to be a safe and effective alternative to antidepressant medications. In one study, patients felt an improvement in their mood and quality of life after only a few weeks of acupuncture treatment, whereas patients on antidepressants took longer to experience similar benefits.

Recently, several studies suggested that acupuncture may promote neurogenesis. This can explain one mechanism for acupuncture’s ability to treat depression and give lasting benefits. Also, Chinese herbal formulas have dramatically fewer side effects than pharmaceuticals, and their safety and effectiveness is also supported by scientific research.

Holistic practitioners also offer diet and lifestyle guidance to address the triggers and resulting imbalance that sets the stage for depression. Lasting healing requires a multi-dimensional approach and with increasing access to this type of guidance and the right tools, such as acupuncture and herbal therapies, we can look forward to a happier, healthier population.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, get help today and be sure to incorporate acupuncture into your healing journey to stimulate neurogenesis and boost your body, mind and spirit! Call us at (218) 724-3400 to schedule an appointment.

1 Neuroscience News Article
2 WebMd Article
3 Suicide Info
4 Harvard Health Publishing Article
5 Article
6 Pubmed Article
7 Europe PMC Article
8 PubMed Article
9 Frontiers Article

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