Dr. Virginia Doran

The Science Behind Promoting Digestive & Cardiopulmonary Balance with Acupuncture

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– Hi, I’m Virginia Doran, your host for this episode of “To The Point” very generously produced by the American Acupuncture Council. Today our show is called A Fresh Perspective on Zu San Li, Stomach 36, and Neiguan, Pericardium 6. The science behind promoting digestive and cardiopulmonary balance with acupuncture. And I am so honored and pleased that we have as our guest today, Narda Robinson. Narda has a very interesting history and approach with this. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard, Radcliffe, a Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine, a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine and Masters Degree in Biomedical Sciences. She’s a Fellow of The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, Vice Chair of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture and a former member of their board of directors. She has launched the first Integrative Medicine Service at Colorado State University and for eight years has directed Colorado State University’s Center for Comparative and Integrated Pain Medicine. She’s taught a variety of scientifically-based continuing ed courses ranging from medical acupuncture and massage to botanical treatment and photo medicine. She’s a leading authority on Scientific Integrated Medicine from a One Health perspective, having over two decades of practicing, teaching and writing about integrative medicine approaches in both veterinary and human osteopathic medicine. She’s the founder, CEO and Lead Faculty and Course Director for the CuraCore MED and CuraCore VET based in Fort Collins, Colorado. And she’s also the author of a most wonderful book called “Interactive Medical Acupuncture Anatomy”. It’s very comprehensive. She has a very interesting neuroanatomical and evidence-based approach. So I don’t know how she’s done that all in just a couple of decades because it’s really quite formidable her accomplishments. So for anybody who hasn’t seen it or who can possibly get it and now that you’re home staying in place, you might actually have time to read it. I really recommend the book. You can find it on Amazon and see some excerpts there, as well as if you search on Google, you’ll see some highlights from it as well. It really adds to our field by putting a lot of the scientific point-based research altogether with the points in, it’s a book of points basically, and explains with a really comprehensive describing of the neuro, not just neuroanatomy, of all the anatomy that contribute to the points and how that actually affects the uses of it, and basically verifies what we’ve learned from, you know, classical sources. So, I guess how I found the book was a student took my class and he was an osteopath and he came up on a break and he said, “Oh, you have to see this book.” And I was kind of like, “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” he was new at it and I just didn’t expect much. And then he showed me, I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And then I had to buy it. It’s not an inexpensive book, but with the work that’s in it and the information that has been assembled all in one place like that, it’s very valuable book, I really recommend it. It can be used however you think about things, but it can help verify things for your patients and the field of Western medicine. So without further ado I’d like to introduce Narda, and give it to her to explain this from her experience and knowledge which is formidable. So Narda, thank you very much for being here.

– Thank you, thank you Virginia, it’s great to be here. We’ll be talking about, Zu San Li and Neiguan and while I am presenting a big focus on the points themselves, I am going… In clinical practice of course we use other points that are mandated or suggested by the patient’s presentation. So this is though is an opportunity to see how some of the mainstay approaches or the mainstay points such as Stomach 36 and Pericardium 6 work from a neuroanatomic perspective. So as you can see here on the left, we have Pericardium 6 in the forearm and Stomach 36 here on the pelvic limb. And just in a different form here is the individual with a different view of the hand so of course when we move around the point locations change, here’s Stomach 36, in just part of the larger context because when we again want to use these clinically for something like Stomach 36 we might want to treat knee pain, we might want to treat pain in the calf, we might be addressing immune function. But if we are working with something for digestion from my scientific neuroanatomic connective tissue approach, I am going to be interested in how stimulation of this point, whether we’re using needling, pressure, heat, laser, whatever it is, how is that going to affect internal organ function? Because I think that that is one of the perplexing ideas from Chinese medicine where we can say it balances Yin and Yang or moves Qi, but we also have information now on exactly how this is going to affect internal organ function. So the objectives for today are three. We’re gonna review some of the Chinese medicine indications and mechanisms for these two points, we’re going to identify key neuroanatomic connections between each of the points and areas of the spinal cord and, or brain. And describe how knowing the structural underpinnings, which was everything my book was about, but of these two specific points, how we can link that directly to the physiologic outcomes that happen from needling, which I as a clinician, as a veterinarian and an osteopathic physician, I appreciate knowing how the points are going to influence my patient and to know that there’s quite a bit of scientific background and backing for what I’m expecting to see. And I will talk as we go forward about how to search for scientific literature so that when you want to come up with papers that substantiate what you’re doing, that you can see how easy it is to do that. So with the images that I use in this, if they are not from Shutterstock photos that I have it mentioned here, so this is from TCM Wiki. But just looking at the stomach channel as a whole, we can see that there is often described in the Chinese medicine kind of literature, a divergent branch that goes to the organ after which it’s named. I mean I learned acupuncture from I mean a variety of perspectives. The Chinese component, the French energetics, the scientific approach, neuroanatomic connective tissue. So I had that as a background. And so this idea suggests that you have energy or Qi going into the stomach somehow and hence the stomach line is a name. And that maybe the idea from that would be that, okay, you stimulate Qi and somehow there’s a branch that takes that to the organ. But what I’m going to add to that is the knowledge about the actual structures that we can dissect and feel and test that give us objective understanding of what these sites of stimulation will do. So again, this is one of the images from my book and it’s with all the different layers on. Because what happened was this was from the Visible Human Anatomy Database and there were computer animators that put it all back together so that as I was photo editing for 15 years, I could add in muscles or take away muscles and just see vessels and nerves or organs or things like that. So by starting with the points on the surface and then going down and removing the skin layer from photo editing, then I could see the different structures that I would be stimulating as an acupuncturist, plus using neuroanatomic information from other sources as well. But this is Stomach 36, as you would see with the skin gone. And the description being on the anterior aspect of the lower leg, three cun below Stomach 35 which is up here in green and one finger breath from the anterior crest of the tibia, which we can also look at as a tibial tuberosity right here. And this is a cross section which I really appreciated learning by dealing with these cross sections, learning the different depths of muscles and fascia and vessels and nerves once you go into the skin, both from a safety perspective as well as a tissue activation perspective. So here on the left, I have cross section through Stomach 36 and I’m showing that, sometimes I’ll say cranial tibialis ’cause that’s what the terminology is as a vet, but the anterior tibial, and it points to how at least in an individual like the person that made up the Visible Human Database was, how far in depth we can go where it’s safe versus when we start to get into other structures. But the point of this slide being that research has shown also that we have all the different muscle afferents available to us at the point. So groups one, two, three and four, which have different levels of myelination and whether they are mechanoreceptors, so transmitting information about light touch or vibration or the subtle activation from an acupuncture needle or nociceptors, so they don’t have any myelin and they’re more conveying pain. So typically what we are thinking about as far as Stomach 36 for indications are have to do a lot of times with digestive things; gastric pain, vomiting, abdominal distension, diarrhea or constipation. But then some mood-based things, even epilepsy or depression or insomnia. Then of course local things for the knee pain or we have leg weakness or paralysis, maybe even a fibular or used to be called peroneal nerve injury. So just coming into acupuncture, one might think, “Okay, how does one point do all these things?” And so that’s what I loved in the process of those 15 years of putting this book together. Coming from a standpoint of just really relying on the Qi in the Chinese medicine approach with some of the scientific background in there. But then seeing as I would start with the neurologic connections local at the point and then put together where they hit in other reflex zones within the central peripheral or autonomic nervous system. It to me explained the effects that were these conventional indications. And so it didn’t leave anything more for me to wonder about. But just to review that the point Zu San Li changes to Leg Three Miles when we convert that to English, which has a lot of different interpretations that we don’t have time to go into. But the Chinese medicine description is that it will tonify Qi and blood, harmonize and strengthen the spleen and stomach, strengthen the body as a whole, and the Wei Qi raises Yang, calms a Shen, activates the meridian, stops pain. Okay, so that’s quite a bit of complexity there. And so what can we start to see? So–

– You know I always say that Stomach 36 does everything except wash windows.

– Yeah, yeah, that’s good. Or like with laser therapy, sometimes when we lecture, talk about it treats everything but death. So I guess maybe you could, I mean you say it tongue in cheek, but that’s a good point, Virginia, yes. So with Helene Langevin’s work, from the ’90s that the needle-tissue interface has been described as, as you see here being able to wind around the collagen that’s in that connective tissue, and then with that we are deforming fibroblasts which is activating their metabolism, causing them to make all kinds of changes through their structure function, just alterations, but there are also nerves in the vicinity. So while we are doing some connective revisions or interactions causing some fascial relaxation, even several centimeters away, there’s also that profound effect which is on the nerves which is neuromodulation. And that will get us into some of the analgesic effects and some of the autonomics or the parasympathetic, sympathetic or the digestive system, the Yin-Yang general balance. And then just taking this from a website talking about modulation, like what is modulation? Well, it is putting in your own signal that is going to interface with what is already there. And so you are modulating or you are changing the status, the resting tone of what that organism is going through. So that when there’s an imbalance, we can come in with our somatic afferent stimulation, meaning on the surface, the somatic afferent, the afferents, the nerves are coming into the nervous system equation and then we are stimulating it initially, but the body is going to respond with a modulating effect. So we are relying on the intrinsic healing mechanisms, self-maintaining mechanisms of the body to take our input, our somatic afferent stimulation with the needling and do what it normally does, bring it back to normal. So it’s like, “Oh yeah, right, this is what normal is.” And we’ll talk about how that happens. And it’s comprised of some neurotransmitter shifts, whether peripherally or in the spinal cord or in the brain, and then other things that happen with larger brain networks. For the analgesia or the pain relieving approach, we can distill some of it down to what happens from our input. So not a pain causing, that’s where having a nice gentle approach with acupuncture is so important where we’re subtly manipulating the needle and that is going to activate the mechanoreceptors preferentially. And what that means, so those receptors respond to light touch or vibration. Think of just a nice gentle soothing electroacupuncture. These are thicker well myelinated fibers that are important in pain control when they get to this dorsal root ganglion. So they’re the good guys. I mean the ones that convey, they’re also good guys ’cause they convey information, or tissue deformation. But let’s say you had some kind of pain elsewhere or if you needle too aggressively, that is sending information through these other types of fibers, the nociceptors. So we really wanna touch or inputs in the way I teach is to be gentle and well-received. There are gonna be some responses in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord that connect to that hand in this case. And those light touch receptors, the mechanical receptors, I think through the next side we’ll see the gate control idea of pain. They can help shut down pain influencers that are coming into that same location in the spinal cord. Of course the big complexity of the whole thing with acupuncture analgesia is that we’re gonna be affecting the whole brain and different pain networks and the thalamus and limbic system, all kinds of areas with our acupuncture analgesia. But just to distill it down right now we have those three initial areas that we’re concerned about. This is just an expansion of that spinal cord dorsal horn area where if we have acupuncture here, they have skin massage. If we just say that’s acupuncture, acupressure done gently that we’re bringing that information through these mechanoreceptors, the well-myelinated mechanoreceptors coming in here. And they are helping to block the pain impulses from on that same ultimate neuron that’s going to come up and then send impulses to the brain. So that’s just a peripheral way to block the pain impulses. This is a Stock photo. This is not necessarily how I would approach knee pain ’cause I would be tailoring it to the exact expression and location. But in general, this is electroacupuncture and I’m bringing that in because here’s Stomach 36 more or less. And they’re doing a typical four treatment before needling approach around the knee, and took it up to electroacupuncture. So if we look at knee pain, how is Stomach 36 participating in that? Well, there’s some local pain shutting down, so peripherally, but then there’s also going to be affects, I like to consider all the anatomy that’s being affected, but we don’t have really time to go into that much here. But there’s also even for knee pain going to be impulses that are going into the spinal cord so that ascending to the spinal cord and brain that are also going to be pain alleviating. And so that’s important to know from a neuroanatomic perspective ’cause we can reinforce that with points on the back and the spine that will help shut down pain information that’s being communicated in the relevant levels of the spinal cord and really reduce what we call peripheral sensitization of nerves that are going to the knee. But it’s never really knee pain. It’s we, I as an osteopath and a veterinarian, I mean we look at the whole body and what are the compensatory biomechanical alterations? Where are the myofascial restrictions? It’s really a whole body kind of thing that in clinical appreciation. But if we’re talking about digestion, one of the things that we can be aware of is that Stomach 36 afferent information is coming into the cord at the sort of the lumbosacral junction. And so when impulses arrive into the cord, there’s something called somatovisceral and visceralsomatic reflexes that we’ll look at as the next slide. Then there’s another component that goes to the brain that will cover. But seems a little bit confusing here. But let’s say we have a dysfunctional viscous, so a problematic organ in on our belly somewhere and that is sending afferent pain impulses into the cord. If those go unabated then we could get tenderness to palpation. This is the whole rationale with the diagnostic exam with the Back-Shu and Front-Mu points. So that is crosstalking with somatic or muscles, skin and subacute areas so that we get essentially spinal reflexes that are originating in a viscera of viscous. And then having a somatic presentation where we can go along the back and find tenderness to palpation and think, “Okay, is that local on the back “or is that from something inside?” And we put that together with the whole patient presentation. So there are lots of reflexes like that to consider whether we’re coming from a viscous and going into the muscles or we would come from the muscles and the external. So if we’re doing a treatment and we are involving low back points, then through these reflexes working the other way, somatovisceral reflexes, we can help to shut down some of that internal pain. So that is why I would use those baby back points in addition to a Stomach 36, I’d be palpating and seeing what’s involved. But here are typical bladder points that are associated with the spinal nerves that in my framework that somatic afferent stimulation is being picked up by the spinal nerves going into the spinal cord and having repercussions there as well as going to the brain. But if we’re talking about where’s that impulse from Stomach 36 coming, then we talked about local peripheral nerve effects very briefly ’cause of not much time and then spinal cord effects and reflexes. But then we’re gonna go up to the brain and this is really what explains a whole bunch of Stomach 36 effects. There’s a little site in the brain stem in the medulla called the nucleus tractus solitarius. Here’s just the brain stem looking at that. And the interesting thing about this brain stem center is it sits side by side with this vagus nerve, which is actually longer than this. And the vagus nerve is what is covering, you know that’s doing most of our parasympathetic nervous system. So versus the sympathetic system, which is fight or flight, this is more you’re vegging out, restorative, calming down kind of thing. And so it has effects that are going to balance out that fight or flight sympathetic system. So it’s gonna slow your heart rate, it’s going to help digestion flow and all the secretions from the gland, stimulate bile release, help regulate blood glucose, help you with elimination and digestion and all that. And for the cognitive effects, I mean, vagus nerve stimulation, so this parasympathetic medic effect is so good that it’s like they implanted vagus nerve stimulators for things like depression and epilepsy and different things. But it’s like we have the ability with Stomach 36 and some other points to actually give parasympathetic benefits because of these long loop reflexes that we now understand. And these are… So the nucleus track, the solitarius is one of the two main somatoautonomic convergence sites. What do we mean by that? This is where the somato, so the somatic input from Stomach 36 is going to join at this site in the brain stem called the nucleus tractus solitarius with inputs from the vagus nerve. So 80% of the vagus nerve that’s coming into the brain, which we just saw a bit ago, is afferent information. So the brain really needs to know a whole bunch of information about what’s going on elsewhere. And so that is coming into this site, the nucleus tractus solitarius along with information from the body of which the Stomach 36 has a nice big connection there. And then it’s like this operator here. So if she’s the nucleus tractus solitarius, she’s getting information from the Soma, which could be Stomach 36, and the viscera, which is your guts and things, and then making decisions. So, what she has to do is, well what she does, who knows how this all happen, but it because of her side-by-side connection to the vagus nerve, the nucleus tractus solitarius can up or down regulate vagal nerve output. So that means if you have constipation, you can change it and the vagus nerve can change its activity so that it speeds up digestion. So this is a structural piece of how, might call it Yin-Yang balance, but it’s how our body keeps things stable. Our temperature, our blood pressure relatively, we have these real estate centers in our brain that are in command of doing all this and keeping us alive on a day-to-day basis. And it’s really very amazing that we know this and that we can have pathways with acupuncture to deal with it. So Stomach 36 for GI problems. It’s that homeostatic balance whether we’re dealing with the long loop reflexes to the brain stem or and the lumbar segments as well. So it’s a way that we can understand how even disorders like this, which is our representation of inflammatory bowel disease. When the nucleus tractus solitarius is not doing its thing, then there is a, and with its parasympathetic effects for the vagal nerve, then things can get out of balance. And when the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight area takes over too much, then we get a pro-inflammatory state. So not just fire or too much Yang but its actual inflammatory state and if it’s going to affect the GI track, then we can get an inflammatory bowel condition. So by having Stomach 36 in there, then we are pushing the balance of the body to a parasympathetic level, calming things down. So if you just go to pubmed.gov you can do, see this as well. And all I did was I did Stomach 36 and NTS for nucleus tractus solitarius. And you can see various research articles, you can select for free full text if you want so that you can get this whole article for free. It’s online shopping. You don’t have to take out your credit card. So there are so many studies that support this idea that it’s a great way to move forward and to be evidence-based with acupuncture. So we just have a few minutes and just–

– You want to, I don’t know how much you have to speak about Pericardium.

– Okay

– Do you want, anything else to, you wanna discuss about Stomach 36 and do Pericardium 6 another time? Or do you wanna move on?

– No. I think we can show like that there’s another point that has similar effects.

– Okay.

– But I think we’re good. Because it has a different brain stem center for the most part and a different, I don’t know, just clinical applications. So Neiguan, Pericardium 6, again, instead of just thinking maybe there’s an energy connection there, we can look at here and its proximity to the median nerve and indication. Some of which overlap. So the nausea, vomiting piece, that’s because the fibers from the median nerve, from PC6 ultimately go to a very nearby center in the brain stem. It’s called the rostral ventrolateral medulla. But a lot of fibers go there. But some of them go to the nucleus tractus solitarius, which for me explains the GI piece here. But otherwise we’ve got cardiopulmonary indications and we can see how Chinese medicine explains it. But if we look at the science and begin again at the site, just like with Stomach 36, we know that there’s muscles and tissues and fascia and bones and here’s a cross section and especially that median nerve is nearby. But when we get to the rostral ventrolateral medulla, which is not far from the nucleus tractus solitarius, we it… that site is more concerned with cardiac, just antiarrhythmic effects and the pulmonary influences. That’s why it’s this master point for the chest. And so we look at a paper like this, for example, “Cardioprotective effects “of transcutaneous electrical acupuncture point “stimulation on perioperative elderly patients “with coronary heart disease” showing that just to cut to the chase here, that electroacupuncture at PC6 and PC4 can reduce postoperative troponin concentration so limiting heart damage and change the autonomic balance to a much improved state. And PC4 makes sense here because that was right along the median nerve if you saw that in the picture from my book before. It’s median nerve stimulation that hooks up to long loop reflexes in the brain. Here’s “The effectiveness of PC6 acupuncture “for the prevention of postoperative nausea “and vomiting in children” Again, just seeing that yes, there are brain stem connections and that is what helps us understand how physiologically, how anatomically we’re put together so that we can understand that you stimulate here and you get effects kind of body-wide or internally, and we’re not sticking needles in organs. To me it helps to really understand this wiring diagram. So the key points of all this are the anatomy or structure and physiology or function are inextricably interrelated. It’s with architecture and it’s with acupuncture and anatomy. So the more we know about the anatomy of the acupuncture points and their physiologic effects, that’s how we can better understand what the Chinese acupuncturists from way back when and Japanese and whoever else was doing acupuncture back then. They might’ve described it using metaphorical language, but if so inclined one can also understand a lot of it now scientifically. And that then informs my needling protocols, because I can take what my hands say, what my heart says and what my mind says and make treatment protocols that are very tailored to my patient based on what I feel, what I know and just a certain level of intuition but not having to have just a belief somewhere, but really having a clear expectation with objective endpoints that I can rely on. So with that , I am ready for any further questions or if you’d like, you can email me at narda@curacore.org.

– Yeah, I think, I don’t know, Alan, you can tell us if there’s any questions or if we’ll leave that for after the show. But there’s just so much you’ve presented . That’s why I couldn’t look up at the camera. I was like, my eyes were glued to the slides. Well I think we’ll, in this case, I hope you can come back another time because I feel like we’ve just touched on the surface of something’s really interesting. Some people will ask questions and they can be addressed after the show. Thank you again for coming and thank you to the American Acupuncture Council and to all our viewers and hope to see you next time. All right, bye now.

– Bye bye.

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