DR: So it’s a misguided response to a valid and life-affirming desire.
JING NUAN WU: I think so.
DR: Is there any valid reason, from your point of view, that acupuncturists should have to practice under medical supervision. And a related question: has there any major problem with the sort of independent practice laws that prevail in California and elsewhere in the West?
JING NUAN WU: As far as I know, there have been very few lawsuits brought against acupuncturists, and when they have come up, it has been through the stupidity and negligence of the individual acupuncturist in most instances. The suits have not basically had to do with medical malfeasance. On the other hand, I think that we have an interim period at this moment where many acupuncturists, I feel, probably would do just as well working with a regular M.D.
I have worked with one in my practice for the last 18 years, and I certainly don’t feel that I’ve been abused by my associates. In that sense, I think we offer the best features of both allopathic medicine and Chinese medicine. However, I think it’s perfectly all right to practice independently, like in Hawaii and California. But you have to understand that the Boards of Medicine and the legal authorities in most of the states in the United States where there is no large Asian population, have no familiarity with alternative forms of medicine.
DR: What do you feel are the major strengths and the major weaknesses of Western medicine?
JING NUAN WU: The major strength is emergency medicine. There is no better emergency medicine that has ever existed on the face of the earth. Certain anatomical and material diagnostic techniques are miraculous. The use of modern medications for pathogens is far superior to any we have had in the past. When there is a real bug, modern Western allopathic medicine usually has the tools to kill it.
It falls down greatly when it has to do with metabolic illnesses and illnesses that are engendered by what traditional medicines throughout the world would consider disbalances within the body system itself. Endocrinologists are the modern doctors who practice the closest to the way traditional medical people would practice. So too little or too much of a specific substance disorients the body and causes illness.
The other area where it does not do well is where there is not a causal feature known, where a diagnosis cannot be made. If you can’t make a diagnosis, it doesn’t exist. So with something like pain, which has no definition in Western medicine, things like acupuncture work very, very well.
DR: What do you feel are the major strengths and major weaknesses of Oriental medicine?
JING NUAN WU: I think the major strength will come in what I call the physio-psychic ailments, which Western medicine turned around and called psychosomatic. There are problems which I think are engendered by disbalance of the physical system that affect the mental, which are little understood in Western medicine. They thought, because of Freud and the development of psychotherapy, it was the reverse. But I think that many times, for example, you’re of a bilious nature because you have something wrong with your bile, not because you’re emotionally angry. I think that’s an area where Chinese medicine can shine. Modern medicine now calls it the psychoimmune factor, but really the psychoimmune factor is nothing more than psychosomatic ideas under a different name.
DR: And the weak points of Oriental medicine?
JING NUAN WU: The weak point of Oriental medicine is that it never developed a germ theory. If there had been a Pasteur in Chinese medicine, then it would be complete. Unhappily, there wasn’t one, and that’s why in China today too, Western medicine is taught side by side with traditional medicine.
DR: How can a culture such as ours most effectively integrate healing arts practices from another part of the world, which are based on an alternative paradigm for understanding life and health?
JING NUAN WU: I think we’re going to be forced to do it, because this system is working very well on certain levels, and has lost its effectiveness on others. The whole Taoist approach to life, which is a way of life and a way of living, rather than looking for outside standards, forces you to create inside standards. That’s always much more difficult, because it’s much easier to go with the crowd. But the teachings in this area are very profound, and they’ll gradually take hold.
DR: How widespread do you imagine acupuncture will become in the West in your lifetime?
JING NUAN WU: The problem with acupuncture is that it allows people who are not very good to get results. It’s a very forgiving therapy. Consequently, the Nei Ching, the Yellow Emperor’s Book, and also other classical Chinese medical literature, says that acupuncture becomes faddish, that it has a great growth and then it falls into disuse, because many people get into it, and practice without qualification. That’s my fear. Not that the standards should be more rigorous within academia, or that the testing procedures will weed those out . . . sometimes the people who can get the best marks on written tests are the worst practitioners. So this brings up the old problem again-that a system of apprenticeship is probably by far the better system to go through, but in its way, it’s nonefficient.
DR: In terms of how many people it can turn out?
JING NUAN WU: Right. And also, it’s far more rigorous in certain hands-on work. I would hate to have a research doctor be my general physician. And so that’s one of the problems, and one of the warnings within Taoist practice. You know: “Fear those who get the best marks on tests.” (Laughter).
DR: Do you find differences in the way acupuncture is practiced by professional acupuncturists as opposed to physicians who have taken several weekend courses?
JING NUAN WU: I think that the physician who practices acupuncture should be subjected to the same criteria to get licensed to do acupuncture, as acupuncturists. I can’t practice as an M.D., but I certainly feel I know as much about things like endocrinology as anybody that’s out there. But I can’t take 250 hours of it and practice. So I think that to that extent, the same standard should be held by all. That’s why, in D.C., I insisted on a practical test for M.D.’s as well as acupuncturists.
DR: What role do herbs play in Chinese medicine as practiced in the West?
JING NUAN WU: As practiced in the West, it still is a very minor part, unfortunately, because the authorities jailed a couple of practitioners about 15 years ago in San Francisco. It’s perfectly all right for herbalists to use herbs on people of the same race, it seems. Or if I give herbs to black people downtown, no one seems to care. But should I start giving them to Caucasians, all sorts of alarm bells ring. Luckily, within the last ten years (1980-1990), that’s changed a great deal. This is very important, because acupuncture is a small fraction of Chinese medicine. By far, the greater part of Chinese medicine lies in its herbal therapies.
DR: To what degree do you use herbs in your practice?
JING NUAN WU: I’ve gradually increased my use of herbal formulas in the last five years, to where it’s about a third of my practice now. On the other hand, I feel that I’m a very competent acupuncturist, and even though I started as an herbalist, I felt I could not continue because of the horrendous legal restrictions on the use of herbs in the United States. So I’ve only gotten back to it in the last five or six years.
DR: Do you use standardized formulas, or do you do a personalized preparation for the particular individual?
JING NUAN WU: I use anything that I think will be efficacious. If I can use a standard formula, and it’s inexpensive, I’ll use it. On other patients where I think a much more complex solution is necessary, I’ll go ahead and do that, and many times I’ll even consult other people within my own staff to see if we can come up with an herbal formula that meets the problem.
DR: To what extent has acupuncture been validated through scientific research? What areas for such study would you like to see pursued?
JING NUAN WU: This is a very difficult problem, because you cannot do a double-blind study. There’s no such thing as a placebo point. In Chinese theory, any trauma produces a superficial, or a temporary, acupuncture point. So besides the points on the major channels of energy, any time you kick somebody, that’s an acupuncture point. Any time you prick somebody with a needle, that becomes an acupuncture point.
Double blinds are theoretically, as far as I’m concerned, complete nonsense anyway. Because to try to get hard scientific fact within a biological system of testing, is impossible. No biological organism is the same – ever! You change from minute to minute, you change from day to day, you change from hour to hour, you change from month to month.
I feel that all you’re trying to do there is statistical averages, and that the background is very soft. The so-called double blind is not, as far as I’m concerned, very rigorous. You can use that type of modality for physics, but for any biological sciences, I think that it’s the blind leading the blind.
I do think that what you can do, is that you can get applied research where you can say, “Here’s a group doing this kind or work, and there’s a group doing some other type of therapy, and at the end of six months or a year, we’ll see how they stack up.” We tried to get this within proposals we’ve written to the government for acupuncture and drugs, comparing it to methadone. We’ve been shot down each time.
DR: Any reasons given?
JING NUAN WU: No reasons are ever given. Regarding research on acupuncture that has been conducted, that there are significant things on a biochemistry basis that have been discovered. There’s no question that there is a peptide change, a chemical change, within the brain. There is no question that there is an adrenal response. All you have do do is prick somebody with a needle, and you’ll see the chi response that the Chinese are always talking about. This is normally a histamine response. You either get a welting, or a change of coloration around the skin, or you’ll feel some type of sensation. According to Western medicine, that’s usually an adrenal response.
DR: Am I hearing you correctly? Are you saying that double blind studies are not even valid and worthwhile in testing patient response to medications?
JING NUAN WU: Yes. The whole idea of the double blind study is fraught with holes, because no organism is the same.
DR: How then can a society distinguish between therapies which are useful and therapies which are not useful?
JING NUAN WU: I think that applied research is the way that you have to go. And, in fact, that is the way used for modern pharmacological substances, because even after they have been approved by the FDA, it takes years before you know what the side effects are. Then, the general population starts to scream about it . . . And it’s only after a number of years that you really know what’s going on.
If you read the PDR’s [Physician’s Desk Reference, the most widely used medical drug manual] you’ll realize that the double blinds really were meaningless. They weren’t done on people who were 65. Almost every older person in this country is overmedicated, because the standards used for drug testing are based on studies of healthy 30-year old individuals.
DR: I was not aware of that. You’re saying that double blind studies exclude the elderly?
JING NUAN WU: Right.
DR: That’s outrageous.
JING NUAN WU: They don’t try them on children either. You see so many elderly people walking around in a fog, simply because they’ve been overmedicated. The doctor has been following the research, which has been done on people who are not in the same situation as his patients.
DR: So you feel it would be important for governmental bodies to allot an increasing portion of research funds for applied research, including applied research in holistic areas such as acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
JING NUAN WU: Absolutely, I think applied research is really the only way . . . because it’s always going to be a statistical format. 20 percent of the population is not going to respond favorably to any therapy, no matter how great you are in your specialty. There will be a certain percentage of people who will come in to see you that you cannot help. That’s why it’s acupuncture and moxibustion [a method of heating herbs directly over an acupuncture point]. Even there, there is an alternative, because many times there will be cases where acupuncture will not help, when heat will. I think that that’s written into the nature of survival of the species.
DR: Thank you, Dr. Wu.
Daniel Redwood is a chiropractor, writer and musician who lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is the author of A Time to Heal: How to Reap the Benefits of Holistic Health (A.R.E. Press), and is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Orinial article is at http://www.healthy.net/scr/interview.asp?Id=224
The author: Daniel Redwood, D.C., is a chiropractor, acupuncture practitioner, and writer who practiced in Virginia and Washington, D.C., for 26 years before joining the faculty of Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City in mid-2006. In addition his role at the college, he will start to see patients on a part-time basis in the near future.
Dr. Redwood’s holistic healing philosophy involves seeing each patient as a whole person whose health is influenced by physical, emotional, and social factors. To help his patients, he draws on years of experience utilizing chiropractic, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, and stress management methods. He also maintains referral relationships with both medical physicians and complementary health professionals for patients who need additional health services.
Recognized as a leader in his field, Dr. Redwood is the author of three books, including the textbook, Fundamentals of Chiropractic (Mosby, 2003), co-authored with Carl S. Cleveland III, D.C., which reviewers have called “the most important book on chiropractic in the last decade” and “simply the best text yet published.” He serves on the editorial board of Journal of the American Chiropractic Association and is Associate Editor of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the world’s leading research journal in the field.
You can also visit his website at www.drredwood.com)