Acupuncture for Menopause: a round up of recent research

By | Acupuncture, Women's health | No Comments

In light of the recent problems with HRT shortages, it is even more important that women are aware of the alternative drug-free treatments available to them.

Acupuncture has long been used as an effective treatment to help menopausal and peri-menopausal women navigate the array of symptoms they experience – including hot flushes and sweats, headaches, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, depression, reduced sex drive and vaginal dryness.

Recent studies have found acupuncture to be effective in reducing these symptoms [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] without severe side effects [4]. Studies also showed acupuncture increases oestrogen, especially estradiol, progesterone, prolactin, and other hormones [5].


[1] Chien, T et al (2019) The maintenance effect of acupuncture on breast cancer-related menopause symptoms: a systematic review. Climacteric.


[2] Palma, F et al (2019) Acupuncture or phy(F)itoestrogens vs. (E)strogen plus progestin on menopausal symptoms. A randomized study. Gynecological Endocrinology.


[3] Kargozar, R et al (2019) Urtica dioica in comparison with placebo and acupuncture: A new possibility for menopausal hot flashes: A randomized clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine.


[4] Lund, K et al (2019) Efficacy of a standardised acupuncture approach for women with bothersome menopausal symptoms: a pragmatic randomised study in primary care (the ACOM study). BMJ Open.


[5] Ko, J. & Kim, S. (2018) A Literature Review of Women’s Sex Hormone Changes by Acupuncture Treatment: Analysis of Human and Animal Studies. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.


[6] Li, S et al (2018) A Multicenter, Randomized, Controlled Trial of Electroacupuncture for Perimenopause Women with Mild-Moderate Depression. BioMed Research International.


[7] Fu, C et al (2017) Acupuncture Improves Peri-menopausal Insomnia: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Sleep.

Migraine Awareness Week 2019 – How does acupuncture help?

By | Acupuncture, Headache & Migraine | No Comments

This week is Migraine Awareness Week. Despite migraine being the third most prevalent disease in the world, affecting 1 in 7 people, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding migraine. A migraine is more than just a bad headache.

For the majority of migraine suffers, attacks happen frequently. More than three-quarters of suffers experience at least one migraine a month, many so severe it causes severe physical impairment. Migraine is ranked globally as the 7th more disabling disease and the leading cause of disability among neurological disorders [1]. Symptoms include throbbing headache, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Some sufferers also experience auras (visual disturbances including but not limited to dark spots or flashing lights, dizziness, vertigo, numbness and tingling, confusion and weakness and sometimes partial paralysis), and some even auditory hallucinations. For some sufferers, attacks may not last even an hour, but for others is could be several days, with another couple of days of recovery [2]. Unsurprisingly, migraines can have an enormous detrimental effect on work, social and family lives.

Shockingly, despite the prevalence and severity of migraine, a mere 4 hours are committed to headache disorders in undergraduate medical training, and still only 10 hours for specialists worldwide [3]. Less than 50% of migraine sufferers are happy with their current treatment and the majority choose to self-medicate with over-the-counter medication rather than seeking medical help [4].

There is a growing body of research in recent years into the efficacy of acupuncture in both preventing and treating migraine [5,6,7,8,9,10]. Acupuncture has been found to be effective in both prevention and treatment, and in one study was found to be more effective than the current favoured medication Propranolol in reducing migraine episodes and caused fewer adverse events [6]. Other studies have shown acupuncture to be at least as effective as other interventions, and enhancing quality of life in migraine patients better than other medication [10].

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that patients are offered a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture to prevent migraine if the medications topiramate or propranolol are not working well for them [11].

So what can acupuncture do to help treat and prevent migraine? It provides pain relief, through the action of stimulating nerve fibres which leads to the release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord [12, 13]. Acupuncture reduces inflammation by promoting the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors [14, 15, 16]. It reduces the degree of cortical spreading depression (CSD), an electrical wave in the brain that is associated with migraine, and plasma levels of calcitonin gene-related peptide and substance P which are pain-signalling neuropeptides implicated in the pathophysiology of migraine [16]. Acupuncture also modulates extracranial and intracranial blood flow which contribute to migraine pain [17]. Serotonin levels in the brain are affected – serotonin may be linked to both the initiation of attacks and the relief of acute attacks [18], and there is an increase in local microcirculation which aids the dispersal of swelling [19].



[1] Steiner et al (2013) Migraine: the seventh disabler. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 14:1.


[2] Migraine Trust (2019) Symptoms and stages of migraine.


[3] World Health Organization (2111) Atlas of headache disorders and resources in the world.


[4] All-Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Headache Disorders (2010) Headache Disorders – not respected, not resourced.


[5] Doll et al (2019) Acupuncture in adult and pediatric headache: A narrative review. Neuropediatrics.


[6] Chen et al (2019) Acupuncture versus propranolol in migraine prophylaxis: an indirect treatment comparison meta-analysis. Journal of Neurology.


[7] Kowacs et al (2019) Consensus of the Brazilian Headache Society on the treatment of chronic migraine. Asociacion Neuropsiquiatrica Argentina, 77(7): 509-20.


[8] Trinh et al (2019) Systematic review of episodic migraine prophylaxis: Efficacy of conventional treatments used in comparisons with acupuncture. Medical Acupuncture, 31(2): 85-97.


[9] Wells et al (2019) Complementary and integrative medicine for episodic migraine: an update of evidence from the last 3 years. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 23(2): 10.


[10] Jiang et al (2018) The effect of acupuncture on the quality of life in patients with Mmigraine: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9: 1190.


[11] National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2015) Headaches in over 12s: diagnosis and management.


[12] Zhao, C. (2008) Traditional and evidence-based acupuncture in headache management: Theory, mechanism, and practice. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.


[13] Pomeranz, B. (2001) Acupuncture analgesia – basic research. In: Stux, G., & Hammerschlag, R. (eds) Clinical Acupuncture, Berlin: Springer, 1-28.


[14] Kim et al (2008) Low-frequency electroacupuncture supresses carrageenan-induced paw inflammation in mice via sympathetic post-ganglionic neurons, while high-frequency EA suppression is mediated by the sympathoadrenal medullary axis. Brain Research Bulletin, 75(5): 698-705.


[15] Kavoussi, B. & Ross, B. (2007) The neuroimmune basis of anti-inflammatory acupuncture. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 6(3): 251-7.


[16] Shi et al (2010) Effect of electroacupuncture on cortical spreading depression and plasma CGRP and substance P contents in migraine rats. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu, 35(1): 17-21.


[17] Park et al (2009) Effect of acupuncture on blood flow velocity and volume in common carotid and vertebral arteries in migraine patients. Medical Acupuncture, 21(1).


[18] Zhong et al (2007) Effects of acupuncture on calcitonin gene-related peptide gene expressions in the brain of migraine rats. Modern Rehabilitation.


[19] Komori et al (2009) Microcirculatory responses to acupuncture stimulation and phototherapy. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 108(2): 635-40.

Join the Sunscreen Revolution

By | Tropic Skincare | No Comments

As you are probably aware, I am a Tropic Skincare Ambassador. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m biased when it comes to the choice between natural, cruelty-free skincare options and those more often found on the supermarket shelves. Let me share with you some of the reasons why I am so passionately advocating a switch from your old usual sunscreen to a healthier alternative.


Sunscreen protects our skin, right? It blocks harmful UVA and UVB light preventing sunburn, skin damage, skin aging and cancer. Those things are true, but depending on what type of sunscreen you are using, it could be doing a whole lot of other damage – to your body and to the environment.


The vast majority of sunscreens on the market are chemical sunscreens. This is because they are cheaper and easier to formulate and soak into the skin easily. They work by coating the skin in a chemical that reacts to UV rays. However, once it has reacted, this chemical is now spent and you will need to reapply. And you also now have a chemical reaction occurring on your skin which causes the formation of free radicals – a major cause of skin aging and skin damage. So let’s get this straight – we are using sunscreen to prevent skin aging and skin damage, but sunscreen is actually a cause of skin aging and skin damage? What’s the point in that?


What makes this even worse, is that the majority of chemical sunscreens (about 70%) contain a toxic chemical oxybenzone – around 3,500 brands worldwide. A study by the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention showed this chemical to be present in 97% of Americans (Calafat 2008). Oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin into your bloodstream, where is then acts as a hormone disruptor. It is also found to be present in breastmilk and urine. The good news is that researchers at UC Berkeley discovered that oxybenzone levels and those of other chemicals of concern reduced dramatically when an alternative chemical-free sunscreen was used instead (Harley 2016). Experts caution that the unintentional exposure to and toxicity of active ingredients erode the benefits of sunscreens (Krause 2012, Schlumpf 2010).


Researchers from Denmark and Sweden investigated the hormone disruption caused by the chemical UV filters oxybenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, Benzophenone-2, PABA, OD-PABA, 3-BC and 4-MBC (Krause 2012). They reported that these chemicals affect reproduction and development by altering reproductive and thyroid hormones.


As if it wasn’t bad enough that a product we use to protect ourselves is actually causing untold damage – chemical sunscreens are responsible for enormous damage to the environment. They are putting our oceans and marine life, in particular, at risk. According to the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, between 6,000 and 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen ends up in coral reef areas each year from swimmers, scuba divers, and snorkelers. Chemical sunscreen has been found to be killing off coral, especially around tourist areas. The Caribbean, Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef have been dramatically affected. Similar to how it is damaging to human health, oxybenzone alters coral DNA, makes coral more susceptible to potentially fatal bleaching and acts as an endocrine disruptor, causing baby coral to encase itself in its own skeleton and die, according to the findings of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia. Nor does it take much of this chemical to do damage – the damaging effects were seen in coral in concentrations of oxybenzone as low as 62 parts per trillion, which is equivalent to a drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools.

It only takes a matter of months to bleach and kill off coral


So, what are the alternatives? Do we have to burn our skin to save the environment? Thankfully, there is a healthier, environmentally friendly alternative and that is mineral sunscreen. The active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreens work by forming a barrier on the skin. They reflect the UV rays back into the atmosphere and remain completely inert on the skin. It is n0t absorbed by the skin. Mineral protection isn’t used commonly by sunscreen manufacturers as these ingredients are very difficult to formulate with and often leave a white sheen after application. But Susan Ma at Tropic Skincare has been working for the past couple of years to design a range of natural, vegan, cruelty-free sun care. And boy, has she done a great job.


Last year Tropic introduced its first mineral sunscreen in SPF 30, and such was its popularity one of the ingredient suppliers couldn’t keep up with demand and we had to discontinue until we found a new supplier. In this time, Susan has not only improved the formulation and removed essential oils to make it suitable for even the most sensitive of skins, but come up with three entirely new formulations: SPF 15, 30 and 50. The first two are oil-in-water lotions which are very light in texture and blend into the skin within seconds, while the SPF 50 is a thicker water-in-oil cream which still blends in perfectly leaving no white streaks. They have been tested against all other sunscreen hands on the market and has beaten them all hands down. They offer the highest protection levels and water resistance, are kind to your skin and to the environment. Good job Susie!

Alongside the 3 standard sunscreens Tropic have also introduced an SPF 50 Sun Balm, an oil-based balm to add extra protection to those particularly burn-prone spots and is great for all over use on babies and small children. And we have the Tinted Sun Shade which is a 3-in-one moisturiser, BB cream and sunscreen. It is really water resistant so your make up doesn’t wash off in the water.


I hope that after reading this you feel inspired to rethink your sunscreen choices this summer. While natural, ethical mineral sunscreens are more expensive, they offer better protection, you don’t need to constantly reapply and I feel that knowing what I now know, I can’t in all good conscience continue to pollute my body and the oceans.


For more information on Tropic Skincare and to take a look at our range visit my Tropic shop

How can I improve my sperm quality? 10 simple strategies

By | Acupuncture, Fertility, Male health | No Comments

Male infertility accounts for 40% of couples’ infertility (40% female factor, 20% unknown) and affects 1 in 20 men. The average male sperm count is dropping 1% a year and men with extremely low sperm counts have tripled from 6% to 18% since the 1940s. Yet, surprisingly, in my experience very few men seek help while women frequently seek treatment to improve their chances of conception, even when the cause is unknown. It takes two to make a baby! It is a shame that I see so few male partners as there is much acupuncture can do to improve

  • sperm count
  • volume
  • motility
  • morphology
  • vitality
  • libibo
  • erectile dysfunction
  • energy and endurance

There is also a great deal you can do through simple lifestyle changes to improve the quality of your sperm.

Unlike female eggs that are created when she is still in the womb herself, the life cycle of sperm is relatively short – allowing you to make significant positive changes in just a few months. Men produce 1500 sperm cells per second. 200-300 million are produced each day, though only 100 million become viable sperm. Only! Millions are released in a single ejaculation.

Sperm live only briefly and are constantly replaced – development takes only 100 days to mature and become part of the ejaculate. So, every 3 months you have entirely new sperm – can you see how making positive changes can quickly affect your fertility?

So, what can you do?


Sperm health is compromised by

  • paternal age – declining semen volume, testosterone and quality of erections, increased chance of chromosomal and semen abnormalities
  • sexual related problems – low libido, infrequent intercourse, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, retrograde ejaculation
  • varicocele – abnormal dilation of testicular veins causing warmer testes
  • seminal tubes blocked or damaged eg. through sports injury, vasectomy reversal
  • previous surgery to correct undescended or twisted testicles
  • fever or infection, especially prostatitis (becoming common in young men, sat all the time), epididymitis, orchitis or chlamydia
  • genetic or hormonal abnormality
  • antisperm antibodies caused by injury, surgery or infection – these cause sperm to stick together so they can’t swim
  • environmental pollutants – endocrine disruptors such as plastics disrupt hormones due to the oestrogen-like compounds they contain which disrupt testosterone. A commonly used herbicide, Atrazine, causes impairment of sexual development in men by causing over-production of oestrogen


10 Simple Stategies to Improve Sperm Quality

  1.  Improved nutrition
    • diets high in chicken, fish, fruit and veg (preferably organic to reduce risk of environmental pollutants) are beneficial
    • diets high in saturated fat and salt, especially ready meals, deplete sperm count
    • include Omega 3 from organic dairy
  2. Optimise weight – BMI 20-25. Both high and low BMI cause poor quality sperm
  3. Keep testes cool – optimally 1-8 degrees below body temperature. They are cleverly designed to hang away from the body, so give them some room! 24 hours of raised temperature is enough to cause sexual malfunction in rats. Keep the temperature down by
    • don’t keep phones in pockets or laptops on lap
    • avoid saunas and hot tubs
    • avoid prolonged sitting

      Prolonged sitting reduces sperm quality

  4. Take good quality pre-conception supplements for at least 3 months. They are essential for the micronutrients that have been stripped from the soil such as zinc
  5. Cordyceps mushrooms not only improve sperm quality, but also help physical endurance. These are available as a food supplement from health shops
  6. Stop smoking and taking recreational drugs. You will see a massive 50-800% improvement in sperm count
  7. Stop or reduce alcohol consumption, especially before IVF as it can reduce succes markedly. Drink a maximum of 5 units a week
  8. Check for STIs and low level infections
  9. Check any medicinal drugs you are taking are not contra-indicated for conception, as some may cause sperm abnormalities or reduced sexual function
  10. Have regular acupuncture treatments to improve sperm count, morphology, motility and libido!


With thanks to Jill Glover, whose lecture “It Takes Two” at the BAcC Conference 2016 informed this post

2016 – Year of the Clever Red Fire Monkey

By | Traditional Chinese Medicine | No Comments

Chinese New Year is almost upon us. This falls each year on the New Moon between 21st January and 21st of February and this year is celebrated on 8th February. Traditionally, this festival is a time to honour ancestors and deities. It is a time for families to gather together, then cleanse the house – ridding it of any ill-fortune and making room for good luck.
According to legend, the tradition of the Chinese New Year began when a mythical beast called the Nian troubled villagers, eating them and their children. They would leave food on their doorsteps at the beginning of each year to keep him away. One day a god visited the village and advised them to place red paper on their houses. The villagers realised the Nian was afraid of the colour red so they wore red clothes, hung red lanterns and set off fire crackers to scare him away. The Nian never troubled the village again.


Fire monkey
2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey. In Chinese astrology, each year is assigned one of the Five Elements (water, wood, fire, earth and metal) and one of the 12 animals. The Monkey is intelligent, inventive and a good problem solver. He is witty and social in groups but also independent. The Monkey is playful and youthful and symbolises curiosity and creative energy. He represents the unfettered mind freed from inhibitions and guilt. He can also be cunning, opportunistic and untrustworthy.
The year of the Fire Monkey, then, is one in which anything can happen. There is little point in storing things up or making plans this year. The social aspect of the Monkey, his cheeky nature and enthusiasm help us to deal with stresses through open communication and good humour. The Monkey is fast and active and we should follow his lead this year by increasing our activity levels. Help the body to discard its stresses by moving – take up a sport or try walking, yoga or dance.
The year of the Fire Monkey is largely optimistic and should see upturns and growth. However, in our financial concerns, we need to be wise and vigilant to outsmart the monkey and look after our investments. The status of events can change very swiftly this year and we should take care before making changes that may affect our finances, career, family or relationships. Insecurity and trickery abound this year and decisions should be made carefully, using logic rather than emotion.
This year is especially auspicious for inventiveness. This is a time to take risks with new ideas and embrace rebelliousness, guts and bravado. But only for those who can outsmart the trickster Monkey – the slow and dull-witted will struggle.
The year of the Fire Monkey is one in which to enjoy and live life to the full. Happy New Year everybody!

Five Elements: Are you a Fiery one?

By | Traditional Chinese Medicine | No Comments

Summer is the season of the Fire Element. The energy is of outward radiation like the sun in full force, and is known as “Radiant Yang”. According to Gabriel Mojay, Fire is energy at its “most refined and sensitive, it is associated with both conscious awareness and self-identity”.

The organ of Fire is the Heart. The Yellow Emperor describes the Heart “like the minister of the monarch who excels through insight and understanding… it is the root of life and causes versatility of spiritual faculties”. The Heart governs and circulates the Blood and also houses the Mind, or Shen. The Shen encompasses all mental-emotional activity, thinking, feeling, imagination, memory and is the source of self-awareness.

It is no coincidence that we speak of the Heart as a place of emotion. When we feel anxious, we often feel palpitations, when we are in love a fluttering in our hearts. Our hearts feel full with love, broken hearted when we suffer loss. The Heart is the organ of love and affection – the giver and receiver of love. The root emotion of Fire is joy. The Fire element is one of open communication and enjoyment of social activities.

As the Heart houses the Shen, it will be involved in most psychological issues. When the Fire element is imbalanced, emotional and psychological problems can occur. Fire can blaze out of control or can burn out. Fire may not burn hot enough or be doused out.

Here is a checklist of typical Fire prsonality traits. The beginning of the list represents a healthy, balanced Fire element. You can see as the list progresses how Fire can become imbalanced or out of control. How fiery are you?

I am empathetic towards others
I am enthusiastic
I laugh loudly and often
I am talkative
I enjoy emotional intimacy
I am optimistic
I can get over-excited
I talk too much
I wear my emotions on my sleeve
I care what others think about me
I am easily hurt by others
I can be absentminded and scatter-brained
I need lots of support and praise
I lack excitement and enthusiasm
I can be self-centred and selfish
I tend to be apathetic and despondent
I have poor self-image and low self-esteem
I may lack compassion for myself and others
I am often anxious
I suffer with insomnia
I can become hysterical


Here are some physical signs and symptoms of a Fire imbalance:

Red, blotchy complexion / ashen complexion
Tendency to blush
Tongue problems – ulcers, swelling, etc
Cold hands and feet / poor circulation
Varicose veins
Dizziness and fainting spells
Skin eruptions
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Palpitations especially when anxious
Sleep disturbances – insomnia, vivid / disturbing dreams
Speech problems – slurring, stuttering


If you suffer with any of the above symptoms or feel your Fire element tipping out of balance, an acupuncturist can help to bring you back into harmony. You can help yourself at home using the following essential oils: Jasmine, Lavender, Melissa, Neroli, Palmarosa, Rose, Rosemary, Spikenard, Ylang Ylang. Fire and the Heart respond well to floral fragrances in particular – the scents of love and joy.





Essential Oil Profile – May Chang

By | Aromatherapy | No Comments

Botanical name: Litsea cubeba

Family: Lauraceae

May Chang is a personal favourite of mine. Its fresh, sweet, lemon-like fragrance takes me immediately back to my honeymoon in South East Asia. The oil is steam-distilled from the fruit of the May Chang tree – a small tropical tree that grows in Eastern Asia.

Chemical composition: The lemony fragrance is due to the oil’s high concentration of citral (about 75%). The two isomers of citral, geranial and neral make up 41% and 33% respectively. Limonene (8%) myrcene (3%) and smaller amounts of α-pinene, β-pinene, nerol, geraniol, linalool, linalyl acetate and caryophyllene constitute a typical May Chang chemical make-up.

Therapeutic action: Antidepressant, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, galactagogue, insecticide, stimulant, tonic.


In Traditional Chinese Medicine, May Chang is used to alleviate cold painful conditions – muscular aches and menstrual pain that improves with the application of heat or pressure.

Studies have concluded that the high concentration of citral in May Chang oil is responsible for this oil’s effectiveness in treating cardiac arrhythmia, as citral has been seen to increase blood flow and improve ECG profiles in rabbits (Tisserand & Balacs, 1992). Thus, May Chang may be used in the treatment of cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease and high blood pressure.

May Chang is astringent and therefore of use in the treatment of oily skin and acne. It reduces excessive perspiration and is a good natural deodorant.

May Chang is an extremely effective antiseptic and makes for a very pleasant oil to vapourise around the room during cold and flu season.

The beautiful and uplifting citrus aroma makes this oil perfect for alleviating stress and anxiety.


Blend recipe:

May Chang 4 drops
Lavender 2 drops
Sweet Orange 3 drops
In 30ml carrier oil

This is my lemon fondant fancy blend! It always cheers me up and is deeply relaxing and comforting.



Battaglia, S. (2003) The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.

Davis, P. (1999) Aromatherapy: An A-Z. The CW Daniel Co.

Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. (1992) May Chang. The International Journal of Aromatherapy, 4(3): 25-27.


How to choose an acupuncturist

By | Acupuncture | No Comments

Acupuncture is not regulated in the UK. This effectively means that anyone can buy a box of needles on eBay and call themselves an acupuncturist! Following these five steps will ensure that you find a qualified, safe practitioner who is right for you.

1. Choose a type of acupuncture

There are several different types of acupuncture available in the UK:

‘Traditional Acupuncture’ is practiced by members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC). BAcC members have completed over 3,600 hours of study that meets World Health Organisation standards, usually in the form of a full time BA or BSc (Hons) university degree in acupuncture. Their training includes Western medical theory, Chinese medicine and acupuncture, and they are qualified to use acupuncture to treat the widest range of conditions. Each treatment they provide is uniquely formulated for you as an individual – like having a pharmacist design a new drug specifically for you.

‘Medical Acupuncture’ is practiced by people with Western medical training (like GPs and midwives) and ‘Dry Needling’ is practiced by people with training in manual therapies (like physiotherapists and chiropractors). Their acupuncture training ranges from 2 days to 6 months in duration. Some medical acupuncturists are members of the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS), and some Dry Needling courses are accredited by the British Acupuncture Society (BAS). Medical Acupuncturists treat a smaller number of conditions than Traditional Acupuncturists, and Dry Needling courses cover where to insert needles for certain musculoskeletal problems. Medical Acupuncture and Dry Needling uses set treatment protocols based on your symptoms – like being given a standard over-the-counter pill.

2. Ask about their qualifications

In the absence of statutory regulation, it is essential to check what acupuncture qualifications a practitioner has before starting treatment.

You can ask what type of acupuncture they practice, how long their acupuncture training was, what qualification they gained, who awarded the qualification, and whether they belong to a professional body. British Acupuncture Council members will have the letters ‘MBAcC’ after their name.

It is never rude to ask to see a practitioner’s certificates and fully qualified practitioners will be happy to oblige. You can often check their professional registration online. For example, you can search for an acupuncturist by name on the British Acupuncture Council website at to check their membership status.

3. Check their Environmental Health registration

Like all skin-piercing techniques, acupuncture carries a risk of cross-infection. This is minimised by following guidelines set out by each district council. By law, everyone practicing acupuncture and dry needling must be inspected by and registered with their local council’s Environmental Health department, and must display their registration certificate in their treatment room. There are two exceptions: medical practitioners (e.g. GPs and nurses) practicing on NHS premises, and British Acupuncture Council members practicing in Greater London (this is because British Acupuncture Council Members adhere to very strict Safe Practice Guidelines that meet or surpass those set out by the Care Quality Commission and district councils). If you can’t see an Environmental Health certificate in your practitioner’s treatment room, ask them about it.

4. Ask about their experience

Ask what experience your prospective acupuncturist has in treating your symptoms or condition. Some acupuncturists complete additional Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training or conduct research into specific areas, so ask about this too.

You can ask what their success rate is like, but be aware that this can be a difficult question to answer because every case is unique. For example, there are many factors that contribute to low back pain, meaning that some people will feel better after just one treatment, while others will need to use acupuncture alongside lifestyle changes to help manage their pain.

5. Decide if you like them

Once you have determined what type of acupuncture they practice, checked out their qualifications, professional accreditation and Environmental Health registration, and asked about their experience, decide if you feel comfortable with them. Feeling that you trust your practitioner will make your experience much more enjoyable.

Have a look at their website and ask around to see if any of your friends have had treatment with them. Many acupuncturists offer free 15-minute sessions where you can meet them, discuss your symptoms, and ask any questions you might have. Of course, you can always give them a call and have a chat before deciding whether or not to start treatment.


Borrowed and reproduced with kind permission from Sarah Attwell-Griffiths

Mental Health Awareness Week: Depression according to Chinese Medicine

By | Acupuncture, Depression | No Comments

A while ago I stumbled across a wonderful cartoon story that so perfectly describes the experience of depression.

While everyone will have a different experience, I think those of us who have suffered with depression can all claim to have felt apathetic, foggy and a distinct lack of joy. For many, the inability to feel anything at all really.

Acupuncture made a big difference for me, and now that I’m a qualified acupuncturist myself I am beginning to understand the hows and whys. Every case is different, the background to the illness, the experience of the illness vary with each individual. So diagnosis and treatment will be different for each individual. There is no “one pill cures all”.

Here is a brief and simplified overview of Depression and its relationship to the Five Elements in Chinese Medicine. Often patients fall clearly into one category, others are spread across several, but it is always interesting to recognise some of these characteristics within ourselves.


The root emotion of the Wood Element is anger. Anger is a positive and healthy emotion when felt and expressed appropriately and proportionately. The Wood Organ, the Liver, is profoundly affected by stress, frustration and unexpressed emotion. The function of the Liver in TCM is to maintain the free flow of Qi around the body, but when this function is damaged or interrupted Qi Stagnation occurs. Tension in body and mind, constriction of the chest, a lump in the throat, headaches, IBS, irritability are all symptoms of Qi Stagnation. An underactive Wood Element can result in someone lacking purpose and ambition, afraid to speak their feelings, burying everything deep inside. An overactive Wood Element creates rigidity, perfectionism and explosive emotions.




The root emotion of Fire is Joy. The Organ is the Heart, which in TCM houses the Shen (Spirit). When suffering from depression, there is usually at least a little Fire involvement. An imbalance of this Organ results in sadness, anxiety, low self-esteem, timidity, despondency and a general loss of joie de vivre. Insomnia is a common problem. When somebody looks dead behind the eyes, in TCM the Shen is said to have been extinguished. When over-active, Fire may cause over-excitement, excessive talking, self-centeredness, highly sensitive feelings and nervous exhaustion.



Over-thinking is the root emotion of Earth. Its Organs are the Spleen and Stomach, which oversee both physical and mental digestion. When we start to obsess on something or find ourselves stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, Earth is often at the root. Earth is also the nurturing Element, and the disproportionate worry and anxiety felt by a parent results from this Element being out of balance. A weak Earth Element may manifest in difficulty concentrating, a fuzzy head, a lack of mental clarity, dependency and neediness. When it overacts, Earth may cause over-protectiveness, constant worry and mental churning.


Metal is the Element of Grief. Its Organ, the Lung, takes in and lets go. Metal is imbalanced when we lose this ability to let go of something or someone, fail to accept reality and move on with our lives. It is no coincidence that following a great loss many people become ill themselves, feeling run down and often catch colds and other viruses very easily. When the Lungs are weak they are unable to provide Wei Qi, the body’s immunity and leave us vulnerable to infections. Metal is also the Element of connectedness. When it is imbalanced, we may find ourselves withdrawing from people and shutting ourselves off from friends and family.


Fear is the root emotion of Water. Again, this is a healthy emotion when felt at appropriate times – it keeps us safe after all. However, when Water is out of balance we can become too afraid to live our lives fully and lose our sense of Will. Loss of confidence and self-sufficiency, feelings of apathy and powerlessness are those of a weak Water Element. An over-active Water Element creates unsettled, workaholic personalities who demand far too much from themselves resulting in burn out. The Water Organ, the Kidney is the creator of our Yin and Yang and without this energy we become exhausted. We spend more energy than we create.

Tips for a healthy digestive system

By | Acupuncture, Aromatherapy, IBS | No Comments

As April is IBS Awareness Month I am continuing this theme. Here are some simple tips that can be used by everybody to keep their digestive systems in good working order:

  • Eat regularly – don’t skip meals. Avoid eating too late in the evening to allow food to be digested before bedtime.
  • Try not to eat when feeling stressed or anxious. The mind has an intimate connection to the gut, hence why we often feel nauseous or in need of the toilet when under stress. When in a state of stress our sympathetic nervous system takes control, switching off unnecessary systems such as digestion in order to concentrate on muscles and respiration to help us escape the source of stress. Food will sit undigested in the gut until the stress has passed.
  • Concentrate on your meal. We process food better when we pay attention to what and how we are eating. There is also a tendency to over eat when watching the television or working as we do not notice the signals that we are full.
  • Don’t eat when in a hurry. Eating too quickly and not allowing some quiet time for digestion can add to digestive complaints.
  • Consider any negative emotional associations you may have with certain foods. These may be due to bad memories involving a meal, negative emotions or simple mental associations. Often eating these foods can trigger stress responses that can affect digestion. According to the IBS Network, a survey of IBS sufferers found the following common food associations:
    o Chocolate – guilt or a treat
    o Muesli – control
    o Meat – violence
    o Shellfish – sex
    o Milk – mother
    o Roast dinner – family arguments
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the Stomach as a crockpot that processes the food. It sits above the Spleen which acts as the fire beneath. TCM dietetics advise avoiding cold and raw foods where possible as these douse the fire of the Spleen, making it difficult for the Stomach to “cook” and digest the food. Foods that are kind to the Spleen and Stomach are warming such as soups and stews.


  • Try gentle abdominal massage to keep things moving smoothly. Your colon runs up the right hand side of your abdomen (ascending colon), across below your ribs (transverse colon) and back down the left side (descending colon). Start by stroking down the descending colon 3 or 4 times. Then stroke across the transverse colon 3 or 4 times, and finally up the ascending colon. Then stroke all the way along, starting up the right, across the middle and down the left.
  • Essential oils of Aniseed, Basil, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Roman and German Chamomile, Fennel, Ginger, Nutmeg, Orange, Peppermint and Rose are carminative, providing local stimulation to the stomach lining which increases tone and contraction of the muscles. They increase stomach secretions thus improving digestion, relax the intestines to facilitate the passage of intestinal gas, have an antiseptic action on undesirable micro-organisms and promote the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
  • Herbal and fruit teas such as Chamomile, Ginger, Fennel and Peppermint are helpful in maintaining digestive health and calming an upset system.

For information and support for IBS visit The IBS Network