By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
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Ancient Oriental practice of acupuncture gains ground in the West

Photo by Chuck Kirman / Star staff October 13, 2008 Westlake Village: Licensed acupuncturist Denise Noyer inserts a hairlike needle during an acupuncture treatment in her Westlake Village office October 13, 2008.

Thursday, October 23, 2008
Ventura County Star

Some say it treats physical disease and mental imbalance. Others call it a natural medical system that can diagnose and prevent, and improve overall well-being.

We've all heard of it, but what exactly is this ancient Chinese practice called acupuncture? And, perhaps more importantly, is it effective?

Acupuncture is a system of holistic healthcare discovered in Asia more than 3,500 years ago that now serves more than 2 billion people worldwide.

"It is a comprehensive wellness system and a complete system of internal medicine," said Jonathan Breslow, a California Medical Board-licensed acupuncturist with 15 years experience and a private practice in Camarillo. "It involves the comfortable placement of very fine, surgical stainless-steel, sterilized needles to effectively treat a wide range of health conditions."

The resurgence of this alternative therapy in Western culture is reflected in the establishment seven years ago of National Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine Day, observed each year on Oct. 24. The day was spearheaded by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

"This day is very significant to acupuncture and Oriental medicine because it shows how far the general public and the medical community have come in accepting and incorporating Oriental medicine into our healthcare," said Denise Noyer, a licensed acupuncturist and co-founder of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine in Westlake Village.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 36 percent of U.S. adults use some form of alternative medicine. Among the common practices identified were acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicine, tai chi and qi gong.

A 2002 survey by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine found that about one in 10 adults had received acupuncture at least once, and 60 percent said they would readily consider acupuncture as a potential treatment option.

"Acupuncture has grown nationally because the people really do feel better, and they are getting results, whether it be treatment of fertility, headaches, nausea, hot flashes or insomnia," Noyer said.

So many have no idea '

Practitioners still have a long way to go in terms of public education, said Deborah Snyder, Noyer's partner who adds to their combined 25 years of experience in acupuncture. Together, they specialize in women's health, particularly fertility, pregnancy support and menopause.

"Our patients are surprised and thrilled with the results achieved, yet so many people have no idea about this type of treatment," Snyder said.

Terri Myerson of Agoura Hills tried acupuncture after she started menopause, which came with night sweats and disrupted sleep.

"I recently read that acupuncture could help with some of the menopause systems," said Myerson, who said her night sweats stopped after a few visits to Snyder and Noyer's practice.

"I feel much better," she said. "It's amazing how relaxed I feel after a treatment."

As to whether it really works, the official findings are inconclusive. The American Medical Association does not have information specifically about acupuncture, but its policy on alternative medicine states in general that there is little evidence to confirm the safety or efficacy of most alternative therapies.

"The AMA supports evidence-based, scientifically proven medicine," said Ronald Davis, M.D., immediate past president of the AMA. "Given the growing public interest in alternative therapies, accurate and balanced education and communication about alternative therapies are vital for both patients and physicians. Patients should talk to their doctors about the potential harm that might result from choosing alternative therapies in place of, or in addition to, conventional medical treatment."

Some doctors are believers.

"I can't imagine that the Eastern culture — Chinese medicine — has been able to last for thousands of years without the benefit of our Western knowledge without there being legitimacy to acupuncture," said Dr. Ian Taras, a gynecologist in private practice in Woodland Hills. "I don't really understand acupuncture, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work."

When it comes to bringing the practice to the mainstream, a problem lies in the fact that the weeding-out process for acupuncturists isn't as rigorous as it is for doctors, Taras said.

"Therefore, you get some charlatans who do acupuncture, and then they give the rest of the acupuncture community a bad name," he said.

"Acupuncture is definitely legitimate," he said. "In fact, there's a program at UCLA in acupuncture. It's been extensively researched with scientific method studies rather than testimonials which is the lowest form of scientific method. So I believe in it. I don't know how it works, but I believe that you basically have to find the right person you can trust."

To illustrate how it works, Breslow noted that, in a healthy person, blood and energy circulate freely; however, "if circulation is impeded due to injury for example, the stagnation leads to pain and degeneration. This is like a garden hose that has been kinked; you go to turn on the water and a weak flow comes out."

"Acupuncture is great at unblocking this stagnation," he said. "It simultaneously relieves pain while stimulating healing to occur."

Release some of the very deep knots'

David McGinness, 51, of Thousand Oaks was having severe tension headaches when he gave acupuncture a try.

"I was having weekly massage therapy, which helped the symptoms but did not really address the cause," he said. "My masseuse had herself been treated by Dr. Noyer and recommended that I try acupuncture. The hope was that we could release some of the very deep knots that I had been carrying around for many years."

For the past 18 months, he has undergone regular acupuncture treatments. "After every treatment, I feel so much better, and the relief lasts for many days until the daily stress of work and life in general builds up again," he said.

Acupuncture is best for such chronic problems, Taras said. "If you have an appendicitis attack, go to the hospital, not your local acupuncturist."

Photo by Chuck Kirman: Denise Noyer opens a packet of needles that she will use for an acupuncture treatment in her Westlake Village office.

Photo by Chuck Kirman / Star staff October 13, 2008 Westlake Village: Licensed acupuncturist Denise Noyer inserts hair-like needles into Kathleen Butcher, undergoing an acupuncture treatment, in her Westlake Village office October 13, 2008.

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