Acupuncture – My journey into an alternate health care universe

I sat in the doctor’s office, listening as she listed symptoms associated with the condition from which I’d recently learned I suffered.

I’d been enduring puzzling symptoms for months, including fatigue, mild depression, weight gain, and hair loss. I’ll admit it, it was the hair loss that sent me to the doctor’s office in a panic, demanding a full blood work-up.

The result? Hypothyroidism. It’s a condition that affects many Canadians, especially women. The symptoms can be mild to debilitating, and include fatigue, cold extremities, constipation, skin changes (especially dryness), weight gain, muscle weakness, elevated blood cholesterol level, stiffness in joints and muscles, and more.

The doctor wrote me a prescription for levothyroxine, a replacement for a hormone normally produced by your thyroid gland, and sent me on my way.

“Well,” I remember thinking as I left her office with a new spring in my step, “that was easy!”

Though levothyroxine has been proven effective in many cases, for me, it just wasn’t. I took it faithfully, but found absolutely no relief of my symptoms. Alarmingly, some symptoms, such as hair loss and anxiety, got worse.

Several concerned friends recommended I visit a naturopath. I did so, but after numerous sessions, felt no more relief than I had with the levothyroxine. After a few months, I concluded that naturopathy wasn’t right for me.

I was discouraged and I needed healing. My body was telling me so. I was exhausted, filled with anxiety, lethargic, and depressed. I couldn’t sleep at night, and my memory was terribly impaired. My skin looked tired and I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to live my life the way I previously had.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in the car waiting for my husband to do some banking. It just so happened that we were parked in front a display window featuring lab coats, books, herbs, boxes of teas, and various antique looking medical instruments that brought to mind medieval torture scenarios. All that aside, I liked the name of this place – The Healing Center.

I went inside and booked my first acupuncture appointment.

Acupuncture is an ancient healing method and a major component of traditional Chinese medicine. The practice involves the insertion of very thin, stainless steel needles into specific points, which is thought to balance the flow of energy, or qi (pronounced chi,) through the body’s meridians. The needles are usually stainless steel and are safely disposed of after use.

Acupuncture is used to treat a wide range of conditions, including pain, fertility problems, depression, migraines, allergies, ADHA, weight loss, and certain chronic health conditions, including hypothyroidism.

To say I was nervous for my first appointment would be an understatement, but my fears were quickly allayed by the professional staff and the lovely room into which I was led. It was only large enough to accommodate a bed and small cabinet, and soothing music filled the space. I was provided with a robe and pillows and instructed to lie down comfortably.

The session began with the insertion of numerous needles along my lower legs, abdomen, and arms. To my surprise, no needles were inserted near the thyroid. Traditional Chinese medicine works by stimulating points associated with the condition to be treated, and often those points are in unexpected places.

For the most part, the needles slipped into the skin painlessly. When I did feel an occasion jab, it was on a point associated with stress or sadness – two emotions I’d been experiencing for months. The pain, however, receded almost immediately.

Though much of the evidence-based research on acupuncture shows conflicting results, I can only reference my personal experience.  Within four weeks, I was symptom free. My energy was increasing, my mood was lifting, my skin looked brighter and my hair was no longer falling out by the handful.

I was cautiously optimistic, and continued with my recommended appointments – three appointments a week for several weeks, followed by two appointments a week for several weeks, followed by one appointment for several weeks. I was then instructed to come back on a monthly basis to keep my qi balanced and my thyroid happy. Six months later, my blood tested normal. I felt like myself again.

It was about a year later that my daughter, who was twelve at the time, began experiencing abdominal discomfort that frequently left her doubled over in pain. She was eventually diagnosed with IBS, which is often a diagnosis reached by elimination, meaning that they couldn’t pinpoint a precise ailment. We took wheat, dairy, and sugar from her diet, all to no avail. The only treatment offered to us was peppermint capsules and probiotics. She took both, with no obvious results.

By this time, we’d moved to another province. I went on the hunt for a new doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, both because I needed occasional treatments to maintain my own health and because I was curious if acupuncture would be effective for my daughter – the same kid who’d hidden under the nurse’s table and refused to come out when public health had visited her school for vaccinations.

We bargained, and she attended her first appointment. Her pain vanished within a couple months, and we became a family of believers.

If you’re considering acupuncture, it’s important to keep in mind that it can become quite costly. Though covered on numerous health care plans, the recommended amount of visits often exceeds provider’s allowances. For me, the results were well worth the investment.

Is acupuncture right for you? Only you can answer that. Do research, ask questions, and check references. The process of finding a health care practitioner must be entered into with great care and consideration regardless of the condition you wish to treat. As for the safety aspect of acupuncture, it’s generally considered safe when administered by a qualified doctor of Chinese medicine.

Journeying into an alternate health care universe can be a nerve-wracking undertaking, but with the right research, the right doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, and the right expectations, it’s one you can enter with full confidence, and most of the time, it doesn’t hurt a bit.

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