For those seeking routes to health that don’t necessarily fit the traditional Western methods, Chinese medicine can be a refuge in the swarm of information in the world today. A practice that has been in use for over 2,500 years, Eastern medicine often gives people alternatives to invasive procedures, opting instead for treating underlying energies that flow throughout the body. From the ultra-trendy cupping to tried-and-true acupuncture, two holistic doctors explain the methods that have stood the test of time. 

SRQ: What are the guiding principles of Eastern medicine? Dr. Brenda Yanofsky: I do everything. I’m a clinical psychologist turned acupuncturist. Chinese medicine looks at the whole body as opposed to Western medicine that looks at the pieces. It’s about learning to use meridians and chi and how it moves through the body. When people have different issues in the body, it usually stems from a blockage (emotional, spiritual, physical or a combination of all three). Chinese medicine takes a variety of ways of looking at that blockage—for example, tongue diagnosis, diagnosis of the levels of digestion, pulses (we have six pulses, whereas Western doctors only have one) and we work in concert with the patient so that we are a part of the whole process. The objective is to balance the whole body and help the person get back to health. I also incorporate functional medicine, using nutrition, herbals, essential oils, exercise, rest and balance.  

How do you incorporate functional medicine into these more traditional practices? Dr. Michele Louiselle:  Chinese medicine is functional. It has always been something that looks at the whole body, not just the pieces. In my practice, it’s more about combining the best parts of allopathic medicine with the functional/Eastern medicine. I use a root-cause analysis using tests, which might be borne of serum, blood, saliva, stool or urine, and I look at the broken functions in the body to determine what is the root cause of the problem. If someone has high blood pressure or diabetes—is that the root cause? Or is it just a symptom of something else that was broken down before? It’s the same with Chinese medicine—it’s all about getting to the bottom. If you don’t fix the foundation, you can’t build. I use acupuncture in a different way, for people with things like chronic pain or relaxation. Internal medicine is more about nutrients. In my opinion, there are only five ways that the body breaks down: genetic disposition, structural anomaly (injury from an accident), lack of water, lack of air and lack of nutrients. And genetic dispositions are significantly impacted by the food we eat and the lifestyles that we lead. It’s the one thing we have the most control over, and most of us don’t make wise decisions there—it’s the core reason why the body breaks down over time. That’s when symptom upon symptom begin to appear and in the allopathic world, that’s when drug upon drug gets introduced. Yanofsky: I also do testing, but more with the muscles. I use a lot of essential oils and nutritionals. I use less herbs, mostly because the aging population takes so many prescription medications and the herbs can sometimes have interactions. Essential oils are easier to integrate. I also look at all the prescriptions people are taking and what area they deplete and supplement that area. 

What are some of the common ailments that you treat, and how do you treat them differently than Western doctors? Yanofsky: There are over 52 different ailments that the World Health Organization agrees that acupuncture helps with. I get a lot of people who come in with sciatica, back pain, arthritis, headaches, menstrual pain, hormonal problems—when I do the intake, I find out what their lifestyle is, how much stress they are under, what kind of medicines they are taking and then I make a treatment plan. I give them a list of what they can do on their own, what I am going to do to help them and I find out who else is assisting them (doctors, et cetera) and what are the questions they can ask so that it all comes together.  Louiselle: I also do programs, and I work with a cardiologist in town on his patients. I build programs from day one with my patients—it’s definitely a process. I don’t use acupuncture for things like cholesterol or high blood pressure, for me it’s more about lifestyle and nutritional counseling, testing to find out if any functions in the body need to be repaired. For instance, if you have thyroid dysfunction—is it primary or secondary? An allopathic doctor will just give you a medication, treating it as primary without doing testing to find out the cause. Adrenal insufficiency can be the real root cause. If you don’t understand the root cause, you’re never going to get the results you want and treat the thyroid problems. Then I treat from a nutritional standpoint to help them rebuild that foundation. Food is medicine. Yanofsky: I worked with a neurologist at Sarasota Memorial with people who had autoimmune diseases, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis—it all comes down to balancing the body and having a routine. What the neurologist said to me was that the more you can have the body function in the same way, on the same circadian clock, at the same time, the more the body can heal itself. And I think he’s correct. It actually unifies all the medicines, even though people don’t talk about it—it’s sleep, rest, food, sun, exercise and everything else.  Louiselle:   It’s all about lifestyle. For example, if you’re having trouble sleeping, having anxiety, et cetera, don’t do a high-impact workout everyday—it’s too taxing on a body that is already stressed, you need to slow it down. It’s about supplementing and repairing. Yanofsky:  I agree, I just use a different word—cellular rejuvenation. The healthier you can get your cells, the more they can get rid of toxins and the more they can bring in the nutrients. A lot of problems stem from people not doing treatments in concert—often times, people are doing good things for their bodies, just not things that work together as a whole. 

What are some of the treatments that are more obscure that people may not know are available to them? For example, cupping is all of a sudden a huge deal—you see the bruising on celebrities like Michael Phelps and Jennifer Aniston. Louiselle:  And cupping has been a “thing” for thousands of years. It’s rooted in Asian medicine, although a lot of other therapies have claimed it. Yanofsky: But there is so much more to it: you have to be able to analyze whether someone has excesses or deficiencies or stagnation. Depending upon where their body is at, there are certain treatments that are helpful, and others that you wouldn’t do, for example, with someone who is extremely deficient.Louiselle: Which a lot of practitioners doing cupping don’t discern between. Especially with medi-cupping—which is done by a lot of massage therapists, not a Chinese medicine doctor. They don’t understand the theory behind it. Most of the people who are getting cupping today are getting “tonifying” cupping done—meaning the cups are just sitting on the skin. There’s a lot of things you can do with cups, depending on the type you’re using to either draw something out (flu, cold, pain) or to build something up in the body. A lot of practitioners doing it don’t understand those nuances because they’re just being taught how to literally put the cups on, mainly for pain syndromes to separate the fascia from the muscle tissue to add to the circulation of blood.  Yanofsky:  There’s a lot more that goes into it: you have to look at the person’s tongue and their pulse and hear their story to see if cupping is something that could work. Sometimes I do another treatment in adjunct. I do cupping, moxibustion, acupuncture, aromapuncture with oils for people who don’t want the needle (essential oils on acupuncture points) and teach people essential oil protocols. And for adrenals I use what are called adaptogens, which are certain herbs that are built to help the body come into balance with cortisol and hormones. I use cupping specifically for people with sciatica, back pain, neck pain, asthma, coughing—you have to know what you are doing because, for example, if you do the cupping on the chest, you can create a blood clot. It’s just like with needling, where you have to be careful around the lungs. I also do massage with cups along the spine.  

What would you say to people who think that acupuncture is just a placebo? Yanofsky:  I’d say try it. I don’t think you have to believe in acupuncture to have it work. A lot of people fall asleep, or we talk about something depending on why they are coming to see me and they feel the difference. When you are treating a specific problem it actually results in other things resolving themselves. We’re a whole. A lot of people, once they feel that acupuncture works for them, will go from one problem to another each time they come in. One of my professors always called it “the unpeeling of the onion.” Louiselle: For those people that don’t believe, I think the only thing you have to understand is that we are made up of energy, we are molecules made up of energy, and needles are made of metal—metal conducts energy. That’s it. It’s just the needle rerouting energy and communicating to the body. I don’t think you have to believe to have it work either. You are going to have varying degrees of success depending on the practitioner. Everyone practices differently, and the relationship between patient and practitioner has to be symbiotic; if it’s not, the person won’t have a good result. It’s just like with a therapist, five different therapists could tell you the same thing but you aren’t going to receive it the same unless you feel comfortable with that person. Same thing with massage therapists. Five acupuncturists could use the same five points but the person will have five different experiences. It’s not only the energy moving through the needle, but also an exchange of energy between the patient and the practitioner. Yanofsky: I seem to get a lot of people who have brought their dog in to have acupuncture. And then once they see it works for the dog, they figure they’ll try it for themselves. Most of them are fearful of acupuncture and never thought they’d try it, but then they see the results with their dog. It reduces fear and anxiety in the dogs. But with people, it’s definitely an energy exchange—we probably magnetize different people we get in our practice. If you feel it’s not working for you, it doesn’t mean that acupuncture isn’t working, you may need to try a different practitioner. Some people really want to have a more energetic connection and others don’t. And sometimes the needles will pop out and I always say it just means you’re cooked, you’re done. After the energy has moved, you’re done.