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Finding a way to relax and control her weight was what originally led 49-year-old Porcia Fernander to try acupuncture. The first time she tried the treatment over the course of several weeks she lost 10 pounds and knocked a few inches off her waist. That was one of the most energizing periods of her life. She was thankful to the physician that advised her to try the Eastern alternative form of medicine. She had finally found the relief she sought and now has regular acupuncture therapy to cope with her occasional pain and aches related to her job.
"As a bus driver I don't get a lot of time to move around or exercise particularly since I have early mornings and late evenings. I also struggle to eat a proper diet as I don't really have any real breaks when driving a bus particularly since I run my own business, so it is easy to pack on the pounds with continuous poor eating as well as get cramped and achy due to sitting in the same position all day or having bad posture. I really needed to find a way to get my metabolism going and start a health plan that was more natural. So I was glad when I found acupuncture because it truly solves my problem."
Acupuncture therapy, a procedure that in previous years was met with lots of trepidation by Bahamians due to their fear of needles or their general misinformation about the procedure, is taking off in The Bahamas according to Dr. Nisha Armbrister, a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of traditional Chinese medicine at Alternative Care Center located on Dean's Lane. But she said that there are adventurous people or who are educated enough about what actually happens who are willing to try it and who have found that this Eastern alternative form of medicine really helps.
According to the doctor acupuncture is when disposable thread-like needles are inserted into the pressure points of the body (of which there are over 300 points) that are all connected to the nervous system. In stimulating the pressure points by inserting needles, a message is sent to the brain to produce more of certain hormones and natural chemicals. In a way this naturally accelerates metabolic processes in the body and in essence encourages more expedient self-healing from ailments or pains."
The procedure she said has been used for over 4,000 years worldwide, particularly in Africa, Asia and South America compared to modern western medicine which has only been around for 250 years she said. And contrary to belief, Chinese medicine is not just confined to acupuncture but also includes three other modules Chinese medicine practitioners like Armbrister use -- herbal medicine, nutrition and Tui Na or body massage which is used to increase circulation and vital energy (qi).
"A lot of people believe a myth that acupuncture is only for weight loss, but there is so much more to it than that," said the acupuncturist. "Originally acupuncture was intended to relieve pain, but in treating patients for pain by creating balance in the body, the patient's metabolism often increased and as a result weight decreased."
Another myth that Bahamians have she said is that acupuncture hurts. The wellness professional says while it may prick at times, it does not hurt in the same way that a traditional hollow needle used for immunization or taking blood may feel. The needles used are thin, solid and disposable. They are small enough to fit in a skin pore and are usually only inserted a half inch into the skin.
Undergoing acupuncture is a simple process that Dr. Armbrister said does have merit. Despite modern people having a deeper affinity for Western medicine she has found many people who are interested in the Eastern medicine and are willing to try it before trying surgical or synthetic means of pain relief. There are even people who choose acupuncture and other natural means of relief primarily over medications and developing dependencies on synthetic products.
"Unlike Western medicine where you expect immediate relief with the pop of a pill, acupuncture is not like that. If you have an acute pain or disorder you can get a session or two to get you back on track, but with long term illnesses and aches and pains you will need more sessions. After all, the illness didn't develop overnight so how can you expect it to be healed overnight. This is very natural and allows people to use their bodies' own natural healing defenses which is the way to go about things in most cases."
Dr. Michael Ingraham, a general practitioner who operates from the Natural Health Center said acupuncture does have a lot of merit due to modern science finally being able to monitor how it works. He said the medical procedure was first mentioned in the "Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine," an ancient text that is generally used as the foundation of Eastern medicine and that unlike many modern forms of medical treatment, acupuncture is all-natural.
"Acupuncture is a very useful procedure for most people with any kind of pain, chronic illness or bodily imbalance. This procedure is not hype like many people may feel and it's good for more things besides the popularized weight loss theory. I have successfully treated many patients with problems ranging from migraines, sports injuries, sciatica (ruptured disk), lumbago (lower back pain) and even chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension. All of these illnesses may seem to have little in common and you may wonder how something like acupuncture can treat them all, but the truth is acupuncture is a means to stimulate the body to heal itself no matter what the problem is."
The doctor with 32 years of medical experience said that acupuncture in many ways is superior to modern medicine due to it being universally helpful for many illnesses. He said it should also be a preferable treatment method for people hoping to go a more natural route as opposed to using chemicals and surgery to cure or manage an ailment. He said such extremes like medicines should be a last resort as they actually alter the body's chemistry and in some cases end up doing more harm than good. He said using invasive methods like surgery to heal the body of non-critical chronic illnesses should not be done before trying alternative and more gentle means of healing like acupuncture and massage therapies.
Dr. Ingraham said acupuncture heals because it focuses on over 360 important points as well as the 12 essential meridian system or energy channels in the body and stimulates them. The points and channels closely align with other systems in the body like the lymphatic system and circulatory system. Because they even lie near important organs through massaging or treating acupuncture points they in turn assist in the circulation and healing to the area connected to the point.
Despite its usefulness many people may still be turned off by acupuncture due to its use of needles and a universal fear of pain but the physician said the procedure has evolved over time and people can be less fearful.
"When people think of acupuncture they may think of all the needles and pain that is said to be associated with it, but acupuncture, although ancient has become a very modernized thing," said Dr. Ingraham. "The point of acupuncture is to pinpoint areas of the body that are in pain or affected by poor or hyper-energy circulation. And the traditional way of doing it used to be needles but now we have advanced and there are electro-magnetic therapies that can target the same painful areas and give results. Another method is laser treatment which is a form of acupuncture that uses a gentle light to treat that is very effective on young children; so really acupuncture is not what people think about anymore."
Although the physician would recommend this procedure to most patients he warns people to be wary of who they are attended by. He said there are many people who claim to be acupuncturists but who are not certified or properly trained. Before opting to visit an acupuncturist he advises people to do their research on the practitioner and the clinic to ensure they are qualified and certified for the job. He said to also enquire about their proper sanitation of needles if they are used in the procedure. The doctor said while acupuncture can do wonders over time, if it is not done by a qualified practitioner it can do more harm than good.
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