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Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine for Healthy Living, Aging and Longevity
By: Lori Kelsey, RN-BSN DOM Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can enhance your health and longevity by reducing or eliminating the risk for many conditions that shorten the lifespan or impair quality of life. Age-related health conditions of concern are obesity, hypertension, alcohol & smoking addictions, atherosclerosis, diabetes & metabolic syndrome, arthritis and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and others related to dementia and memory loss.

Managing Obesity
Obesity is associated with cardiovascular and liver diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.   Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can assist with weight loss by enhancing the complete digestion and absorption of food to reduce the accumulation of dampness (fat). Cooling stomach heat, calming the shen (mind or spirit), uplifting depression, and reducing stress are among the approaches to ameliorating excessive appetite, and compulsive eating.

Certain flavors of foods and seasoning (e.g., salty, sour, bitter or pungent) are recommended to counteract cravings for sweets.  A practitioner may also treat acupuncture points on the stomach meridian and ear to enhance your sense of satiety.

Managing Hypertension
According to the Framingham Score, a 20-mmHg increase above normal systolic BP (top number); or a 10-mmHg increase above normal diastolic BP (bottom number) increases the risk for cardiovascular disease by 50 percent. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine treats sleep disturbances and Liver disharmonies that are among the various disease patterns associated with hypertension. 

An acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner may also recommend medicinal foods to manage pre-hypertension or mild hypertension before medication or herbs are required to treat a more severe problem. For example, hijiki and kombu are rich sources of the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium that are important in the management of hypertension. Pre-soak, soften, then rinse these mild-tasting, dense-textured seaweeds to reduce their sodium content prior to use in condiments, salads, or soups. It may take a few months to regulate hypertension with acupuncture and Oriental medicine.

Abstinence from Drinking and Smoking
Alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking increase the risk for hypertension and other chronic diseases later in life. For primary care and prevention, it is recommended that men limit alcohol consumption to less than 140 grams weekly. Women should limit alcohol consumption to less than 80 grams weekly.

For those with a serious problem, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) certifies an auricular (ear) acupuncture protocol to assist with nicotine, drug and alcohol abstinence. The NADA protocol uses five ear acupuncture points that are calming, regulating, and detoxifying. This protocol is available on a walk-in or as-needed basis at many drug and alcohol addiction programs. Acupuncture practitioners, including those who are NADA-certified, can address the symptoms and challenges associated with detoxification such as insomnia, anxiety, and mental fog.

Combat Atherosclerosis
Elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, with low HDL (good cholesterol) increase the risk for heart attack, cerebral and peripheral vascular diseases, and renal hypertension. These dyslipidemias are associated with fatty deposits (atherosclerotic plaque) that narrow or occlude blood vessels. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine may assist with the muscle weakness and pain that are common side effects of statin drug therapy for dyslipidemias. These side effects are caused by Spleen Qi deficiency.

You may also choose Chinese medicinal foods and herbal teas to help maintain a healthy lipid profile. For example, Chinese hawthorne berry (shan zha) is a food used to lower LDL and triglyceride levels by improving the digestion of fatty foods. Dan shen (radix salviae miltiorrhizae) and san qi (panax pseudoginseng/ notoginseng) are two Chinese herbs that have been shown through research to significantly reduce atherosclerotic plaque.

Managing Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
Type II Diabetes increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Metabolic Syndrome compounds the risk with the addition of any two of the following: hypertension, elevated triglycerides, low HDL, abdominal obesity, and protein in the urine (indicating kidney insufficiency). Your doctor or nurse practitioner can screen for Type II Diabetes or Metabolic Syndrome and prescribe a management plan consisting of weight loss, lifestyle modifications, and medications.

Your practitioner can also provide a plan consisting of acupuncture, medicinal foods, and Chinese herbs that regulate good and bad cholesterol, lower blood glucose levels, and increase insulin production. Bitter melon (fructus balsampear) is an example of a medicinal food used to regulate blood sugar. While prevention is the best medicine,  acupuncture and Oriental medicine is also useful for managing many complications of uncontrolled diabetes, such as skin, vascular, gastrointestinal, urinary, and gynecological problems, and mood disturbances.

Vitamin D and Joint Disease
Insidious vitamin D deficiency is associated with degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and, possibly, many other problems involving the immune, cardiovascular, and endocrine (hormonal) systems. A deficiency may occur if your body is not efficiently making vitamin D from UVB rays (sunshine) alone -- the skin, liver and kidneys are all involved in this complex transformation. By tonifying the lungs (associated with the skin), liver, and kidneys, acupuncture and Oriental medicine enhances your body’s ability to make the active form of vitamin D. Salmon, sardines, and tuna are food sources of cholecalciferol, a precursor to the active form of vitamin D that is made by the skin.

Acupuncture for Neurodegenerative Disorders
Recent studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can enhance brain activity in the hippocampus, the region of the brain damaged by Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Study results suggest that an acupuncture point combination know as Four Gates, Large Intestine 4 (Hegu) and Liver 3 (Taichong), may provide improvement in memory and cognition by enhancing circulation to the hippocampus in those with Alzheimer's and related disorders.

Learn More about Acupuncture for Aging and Longevity!

Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help maintain your health and improve your vitality as you age!

About the Author:  Lori Kelsey, RN-BSN DOM Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM), graduated from Southwest Acupuncture College and has worked in Western healthcare for over 20 years. She owns SpiritSpring Acupuncture & Herbs, and specializes in Integrative Medicine for primary care & prevention.