Posted by: corneliadavies | August 18, 2019

Soy sauce: the difference between big brands and whole food brands

This photo shows two brands of soy sauce widely available in the UK: Clearspring, which is one of the smaller, wholefood brands, and Amoy, one of the big brands easily available in supermarkets. The ingredients on the dark background go with the Amoy one.

Added sugar is a big part of the difference

I’ve been known to have heated discussions with family and friends when I find big, commercial brands of soy sauce on the table. Now I’ll calm down and explain in quieter tones.

A ubiquitous ingredient in stir fries, and great for adding depth of flavour to many other dishes, soy sauce has a place in countless kitchens. But did you know there’s a significant difference in the nutritional content between cheap brands and the more traditionally-brewed versions?

The main differences are the introduction of sugar, extra salt and other ingredients such as preservatives into the cheaper ‘big’ brands, and the time taken to brew this fantastic condiment: four to six months for a traditionally-brewed product versus as short as two days for a cheaper version. You can see how this enhances the profit margin for the big producers at a cost to the consumer’s nutritional intake.

In addition to adding flavour to many dishes, soy sauce contains a wide spectrum of amino acids, so it’s good for us. Adding sugar, extra (chemically-manufactured) salt and other preservatives to this delicious source of nutrition is an insult. Traditionally-brewed soy sauce is a proper fermented food, so it doesn’t need added preservatives in order to keep for ages.

Along with many other people, I get upset by the unnecessary addition of sugar in savoury products in a society where obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer are rife. This hidden sugar is ‘sneaked’ into people’s diets. Soy sauce does contain naturally occurring sugars, but the additional sugar I’m talking about is refined sugar.

The two kinds of soy sauce widely available to us in the West are shoyu and tamari, both delicious, and both nutitious. I will happily use either. (Japanese people have clear views on the subtle differences between the two.)

Some types (e.g. the Clearspring Tamari shown in the next photo) include rice instead of wheat, which is handy if you’re coeliac or wheat intolerant.

This is one of the soy sauces that’s made with rice instead of wheat.

My photos show a ‘big’ commercial brand of soy sauce and one of the several excellent whole food brands. There are other big and small brands available, so do please read the ingredients before you buy. Most brands of soy sauce, whether traditionally-brewed or ‘speed-brewed,’ are cheap, but the very cheapest versions are more likely to be made hastily and with added sugar etc.

I prefer products containing organic ingredients, mainly because then I can be reasonably certain that pesticide, weedkiller or desiccant residues won’t be in my food. Also, soya and wheat are both crops that may be produced from genetically modified (GM) seed, which I prefer to avoid.

There’s some middle ground, too. For instance, the Kikkoman brand is naturally-brewed and contains only soya beans, wheat, salt and water. Their label doesn’t specify sea salt or organically-farmed ingredients and I don’t know whether they use non-GM soya or wheat, but the better restaurants and cafes often have this one on the table and I’m happy to use it if it’s there. At least they don’t add unnecessary ingredients.

Here’s a good, clear article about how soy sauce is made, and it explains both the traditional brewing method and the cheaper commercial method, which takes a fraction of the time and uses added sugar, salt and, frequently, preservatives.

This link describes the science of soy sauce brewing if you want to read an in-depth paper:

© Cornelia Davies August 2019

Posted by: corneliadavies | July 31, 2019

Three months with my friend basil

How long to you expect supermarket grow-at-home herb pots to last? Two weeks? Three at best? That’s what I thought.

This year I sowed basil seed and it didn’t even germinate. It’s a tricky plant to grow from seed in the British climate.

In late April I bought a pot of Greek basil from a supermarket. When I got it home I divided it into five clumps and re-potted each one. By chance, the next day my friend Scarlett shared an online post about caring for grow-at-home basil, suggesting you should do what I had just done and then keep it in the kitchen, as basil produces a stronger flavour if grown in a warm environment. If I hadn’t read this my poor basil plants would have been “on their own” in the garden. In fact, I did give one of the five to a friend and it lived outside until it perished after two or three weeks.

So that left me with four little pots of plants. After a couple of weeks they were doing so well that I put one of them on my clinic window sill as a house plant, where it stayed until I finally culled all of them after three full months of vigorous growth.

During that time I routinely picked the three kitchen ones to within an inch of their lives and used the leaves in salads and garnishes. I’ve had a pretty delicious time with this little experiment!

The three kitchen plants after a couple of weeks, showing signs of having been picked

The waiting room pot, I couldn’t bear to use, as it was looking so great. Eventually those plants flowered and I really did think that would be the end of them, but they carried on blooming for several more weeks before the leaves eventually started to yellow.

So, after three months I have finally bought and re-potted the next generation. This time I’ve chosen the standard, big leaved basil, and I’m wondering how long this batch will last: even half as long as the last lot will be great.

The next generation divided and potted up

Apart from being a delicious addition to many meals, as an aromatic herb basil contains a good level of nutritional substances, such as Vitamin K, C and manganese. It also has a bit of a medicinal, mainly digestive reputation, though there’s not much research to back this up yet.

© Cornelia Davies July 2019

Posted by: corneliadavies | June 22, 2019

Not All Goats’ Yogurt Is Created Equal

Did you know that two big brands of goats’ milk yogurt in the UK are thickened in different ways?

I love goats’ milk yogurt, and I read labels. However, until recently, I had never read a natural goats’ yogurt label. Why? Because natural, healthy brands don’t have additives, do they? Oh, but wait… ! When I read the back of a Delamere goats’ yogurt pot in order to see exactly which live cultures they use I couldn’t find reference to the cultures…

But I was surprised to discover that they add modified maize starch. Why on earth would a natural goats’ milk product have modified maize starch in it, I wondered?

Delamere goats’ yogurt ingredients

So I checked a pot of St Helen’s Farm goats’ yogurt, and discovered that they do declare their cultures, and they do not add any fillers. (I did a quick taste comparison while I was at it, and, to my palate, the St Helen’s one was slightly more deliciously creamy.)

Unfortunately, neither product is organically produced (I wish… ) so I was concerned that the maize in the Delamere one might be genetically modified. I’ve since checked this with Delamere, and I’m glad to find it is NOT GM.

I asked Delamere customer services about the addition of maize. They told me that they add the maize starch to make the yogurt thicker.

So I looked on the St Helen’s Farm website and they said this:

“The fresh milk is put through a special filtration process that takes out some of the water and effectively concentrates the milk and helps to thicken it.

“Once we ferment the milk and add the live cultures it thickens naturally and means that we do not need to add any thickeners such as starches and gums you find in many yogurts.”

Aha, so that explains the difference. It may also explain why I think the St Helen’s Farm yogurt tastes better, i.e. less water and no maize starch. If you look at the St Helen’s label you’ll see that they use two litres of milk to make one litre of yoghurt. So it seems that they use twice as much milk as Delamere, which must make production more expensive… the plot (and the yogurt) thickens…

St Helen’s Farm goats’ yogurt ingredients

Sometimes I make my own goats’ yogurt and it is, indeed, thinner and more gloopy that either of the two commercial brands under discussion. It’s pleasing to make, and it tastes good, but I can certainly see that it wouldn’t be saleable because it’s just too thin, so I can understand why St Helen’s and Delamere each use their own thickening method.

I just wish Delemere wouldn’t use maize starch. I had previously bought whichever brand happened to be in the shop I was using. Now, I’ll make an effort to buy St Helen’s, with Delamere being back-up brand only if I really can’t get St Helen’s.

© Cornelia Davies June 2019

Posted by: corneliadavies | June 6, 2019

Book Review, Matthew Walker: Why We Sleep

Why dolphins sleep with one eye open… this and other facts explained.

My copy of Why We Sleep has that dog-eared look of a book that’s been read cover to cover!

Did you know that you’re hardwired as a “lark” or an “owl” and that sleep scientists know the exact, tiny place in the brain where that fact lives?

Or, worryingly, that regular sleep deprivation can put you more at risk of developing cancer or dementia?

Matt Walker’s best-selling book is rich in amazing facts from experiments in his sleep lab in Berkeley, California and from other research sources. He’s in love with sleep, and takes pains to explain to us why we should sleep more.

Though Professor Walker makes it very clear that sleep deprivation is a danger to our health, this is not a self-help book, but it is eye opening. If ever you thought that you’re fine with five hours sleep, night after night, do you dare read Walker’s explanation of why this might affect your heart health? Or why it might make a difference to how well you learn?

This book trashes the idea, rife in the Western world of business, that the most sleep deprived, earliest to arrive at the workplace is the winner.

Read the book: you won’t regret it.

Here’s a great, 20 minute Ted Talk from the author:

Review © Cornelia Davies June 2019

My website has resources relating to acupuncture, and my clinic Face Book page, is a rolling noticeboard of information about acupuncture and general healthcare.

Posted by: corneliadavies | May 24, 2019

How Can Acupuncture Help Scars? Part 2

Old Scars

In part 1 I discussed new scars and explained a little about how acupuncturists approach them.

My patient said to me, “The top front section of my thigh goes numb and gets pins and needles. I’ve recently upped my exercise classes and I wonder if it’s related. Would you be able to add some needles to help it?”

On examining the thigh I saw a 12cm long dagger-shaped scar and I asked about it.

“It’s an old scar from two childhood operations: one to put screws into the bone, and the second to take them out again. It’s healed, though, and it’s no problem.”

I notice quite a lot of scars on people coming to acupuncture for all sorts of reasons. Some scars are old, some more recent. Some are satisfactorily healed, while others are still quite angry-looking or bumpy. Some still hurt or cause tension in the surrounding muscles. If a scar is not causing problems I’ll usually focus on other things, but if there are issues with it I’ll add some localised scar work.

This scar was more than 25 years old, but, still, I thought it was worth treating. In addition to some cupping and specific needles on acupuncture points known to help with nourishment of muscles, I added surrounding the dragon needles. (See my previous, Part 1 blog on scars for an explanation of this.

In the photo you’ll see a number of needles surrounding the triangular scar, to encourage repair and production of new cells in the area.

This patient had been coming for a while, so I didn’t see her again for a month, when she said, “The pins and needles in my thigh are less, and it felt looser the day after treatment.” The following month (i.e. after two treatments on the scar) she said, “My left leg is really good. It’s very rarely numb now. It’s loosened up and the scar feels soft.” So, what she was saying was that the old, healed-up scar had actually never properly softened. This is not at all uncommon with scars, but people tend to accept that that’s as good as it can get.

The photo was taken recently, not when the scar was at its worst. I continue to work on it as and when she comes for an appointment.

Now it’s a year since we first decided to include the scar protocol in the treatment, and she says this, “I was just so surprised that after so long of being used to the hardness around the scar the acupuncture sorted the area, and the scar has become much less visible now. Someone asked if it was a stretch mark when I was on holiday whereas before it would have very obviously been an operation scar.” 

What you see in the next photograph of a heel is not a callous from a shoe rubbing. It’s a scar from where a post-operative screw was removed. After several years this scar has been hurting again, so here I’ve added six surrounding the dragon needles along with two needles in major acupuncture points on the ankle. The acupuncture channel point needles will have a neurological effect on the heel area (the message will travel via the brain).

The patient reported that the heel pain was much improved following the treatment.

The surrounding the dragon needles around the scar are in position to elicit micro-trauma locally to “awaken” the normal cellular healing process in that specific area. (Please see my previous, Part 1 blog on scars for more information re: scars, generally. )

These mini stories are just a taster of what acupuncturists do with scars. Other examples of scars treated are from caesarean sections, missing bits and pieces (eg Gall Bladders), knee, hip and back surgery, and encounters with kitchen knives and woodworking equipment (yes, OUCH!)

I love adding scar protocols to more overall treatments because they so frequently ease up something which has been impacting on someone’s life for a while.

With thanks to the patients who have given permission for photographs and words about them to be included here.

© Cornelia Davies 2019

My website has resources relating to acupuncture, and my clinic Face Book page, is a rolling noticeboard of information about acupuncture and general healthcare.

To find a fully-qualified traditional acupuncturist near to you go the British Acupuncture Council website and use the search feature, or ask people locally for recommendations to a good practitioner.

Posted by: corneliadavies | May 17, 2019

How Can Acupuncture Help Scars? Part 1

New Scars

A mother asks, “Could acupuncture help my seven-year-old’s scar? It’s from an operation to fix a broken arm. It’s been just over two years now, and it’s still causing discomfort. We’re also anxious because it’s remaining unsightly.”

Though this scar is relatively new, it’s technically past its natural healing time. Orthodox medical opinion is that scars go on improving and fading for about two years.

After three treatments the mum said, “She loves coming to see you and I’ve noticed a big difference in the appearance of her scar.” (It’s also getting less sore, despite being tested with enthusiasm during games of rounders!)

It may surprise you that a seven-year-old loves coming for acupuncture and having several needles in her arm. The needles are tiny and initially some are put in acupuncture points on the arms and legs, and then additional ones are put around (not touching) the scar. Immediately after I took the photograph I showed it to her and she said, “Cool!”

This technique is called surrounding the dragon, a typically Chinese name. Acupuncture originated thousands of years ago, long before modern medicine, and thousands of years before all the wonderful diagnostic aids we have nowadays. In ancient Chinese philosophy dragons were a big deal, so perhaps it’s not surprising that something a little irregular that caused irritation would be described as a dragon!

A modern scientific explanation of why this helps is that putting tiny needles just under the surface of the body causes micro-trauma to the tissue, therefore triggering the body to bring more repair cells to the relevant area.

Here’s what the NHS website says about scars:

The next picture shows acupuncture needles surrounding a scar following elective hand surgery. This patient had had acupuncture in preparation for the surgery and decided to come back for more acupuncture afterwards with the intention of speeding up recovery, reducing inflammation, helping mobilisation of the hand and reducing the scar tissue from early on. Obviously, in this case we didn’t have the experience of seeing an old, unresolved scar to compare results, but I’ve included the image to give you an idea of how tiny, cosmetic grade needles can be used in this situation. The copper-handled acupuncture needle is stimulating an important acupuncture point renowned for its anti-inflammatory action.

This link takes you to a research article explaining the neurobiology of needling via known acupuncture points (as opposed to needling on non acu-points, such as the surrounding the dragon scar needles).

As yet, we need more research results in this area of acupuncture specific to scars, but there’s already good anecdotal evidence that frequently even, old, apparently dormant scars re-start self-repair after one or two acupuncture sessions. More about old scars in my next blog, “How Can Acupuncture Help Scars? Part 2.”

With thanks to the patients who have given permission for photographs and words about them to be included here.

© Cornelia Davies 2019

My website has resources relating to acupuncture.

My clinic Face Book page, is a rolling noticeboard of information about acupuncture and healthcare.

To find a fully-qualified traditional acupuncturist near to you go the British Acupuncture Council website and use the search feature, or ask people locally for recommendations to a good practitioner.

Posted by: corneliadavies | April 28, 2019

Acupuncture Training in China (2006) Part 5: The Final Month

Me receiving my certificate and calligraphy at the closing ceremony

June 13th

At our placement in the second hospital, Dr Zhang seems to have a very clear strategy for us. Every time we have more information from class, she mirrors it in the clinic. Today, being a ward round day, she started the morning with us in a private patient’s room, and stood by the bed discussing the presenting symptom (facial paralysis) and the treatment strategy. On to this she then built discussion of the patient’s chronic illness (diabetes) and her treatment principals for this. She also discussed the tongue, pulses and syndromes, and after she completed all the needling, she explained all the components of the treatment, separately and with crossovers. She doesn’t always have time for this sort of detail, but when she does she gives it all she’s got.

Dr Zhang at work up in the ward

We’re about two thirds of the way through the course now, and while I very much want to get home; I’m already viewing things from the perspective of time running out. I have just over four weeks to get the most out of the classroom understanding of treatment principals and the clinical experience. Will I manage to put enough of it together in time?

June 14th
For several days we had hot summer, often humid, and often into the 30’s– lovely. Then yesterday morning it was cold enough to wear jeans again. Later on we had impressive thunder and rain. Today it’s nice and sunny and warm again. “Do you know why?” Tanja asked me. “Because yesterday the Chinese government made it rain. If it is cloudy for five days the government puts chemicals in the clouds to make it rain, and they did that yesterday.” We both assume that this means the chemicals then fall on us all in Beijing.

Today in the clinic I did some more cupping practice. This was very useful, as in this clinic they mostly use moving cups, whereas at home I am used to using static cups. A Chinese hospital doctor who is currently here learning skills by observing Dr Zhang was in the cupping room with me, and Karim, a Basque acupuncturist who is here for several months observing, was able to explain quite a lot in English.

Here I am in the tiny cupping room next to the acupuncture outpatients department

Chapter 5: Completion

July 16th
The Iranians and half the German group left this morning, and we ‘survivors’ were very sad. Angela and I leave early tomorrow and Baihe leaves for Hong Kong on Tuesday. Petra is required to stay another three weeks to complete her clinical hours, as she had to arrive three weeks late because of her final medical exams in Germany. Stefan, the German consultant psychiatrist, is here for another two months’ study.

Late in the morning, Stefan dropped into my room, and said, in his precise, non-emotional, psychiatrist manner: “Am I right in thinking that everyone here is in a sub-depressive state?” “Yes”, I said, knowing that he wouldn’t feel this emotion, “that’s right, we’re feeling sad that the others have left.” “I thought so”, he said, “I feel sad that the group has broken up, too”. I smiled a little… so, my friend Stefan does experience sadness, after all.

I went to the Temple of the White Cloud alone to say good-bye to the Daoist Gods. This is where I came in. This time I managed to find the ancient engraving of the internal workings of the human body, according to Daoist philosophy. Before I came to China I had intended to look out for this seminal engraving. Last time I was here, I hadn’t located it, hidden away in a lovely inner courtyard at the back of the temple. I was glad of my accidentally booked extra day, just for this (according to my schedule, the class was due to finish a day later than it actually did). In terms of Chinese medicine, this engraving is a classic.

A detail of the ancient engraving of the internal workings of the body, at the Temple of the White Cloud in Beijing

Yesterday evening, I had experienced a different sort of completion, as my room filled with people dealing with things on my computer. At the start, on my second jet-lagged day, do you remember, I had my room full of Chinese people trying to connect the Internet for me? Then I had felt newly arrived, and alone, and wondered what the three and a half months ahead of me would bring.

Yesterday evening, the people filling the room were my classmates and good friends. It was our last chance to upload and download things to and from each other’s computers, and there was a regular traffic in the corridors and rooms.

And every now and then someone would wander in to find out when we would be ready to eat. I’m signing off now, to finish my packing…

July 17th
I’m on the aeroplane home, discovering first hand how difficult it is to use a laptop in an economy cabin with the seat in front in reclining position.

Angela and I went to the airport together this morning. As we queued for our respective check-in procedures, Angela excitedly found herself surrounded by people speaking fast and fluent Spanish: she’s often felt very isolated from her own language during the three months here, but she’s been very stoical about it and has worked hard to improve her English. Before she booked the course, the college promised her a Spanish translator throughout, but one never materialised, and she’s coped extremely well.

We went to have a drink in a typical airport café, which gave a choice of Chinese or Western food, and Angela wickedly asked me if I wanted to take my last chance for Chinese food (I think you can guess my answer). Then it was my turn to wickedly offer to watch her bags so that she could have a final experience of a Chinese loo, which, strangely, she declined. Instead, she watched my bag while I went in, and took a random choice of Eastern or Western style cubicle. A lovely, elderly Chinese woman came in and opening a door, made a slight, distressed noise at the sight of the Western-style loo behind it. She tried the next one, and, finding it was also Western style, resigned herself to go in, until I pointed out a squat loo I’d noticed as I walked past. She mimed squatting, in a questioning way. “Duai”, I said, using my Chinese vocabulary nearly to its limit. She pushed the door open and thanked me appreciatively. We all have our foibles: they’re just different ones.

Leaving Angela disappearing through her departure gate – my last farewell – I went to my own departure gate, knowing that my time of Englishness was about to come full circle as I joined the very British institution of a British Airways flight, and now here I am on the plane.

The initial cabin announcement was made by the senior stewardess, in a beautifully spoken, cut glass English accent: fluent, with full vocabulary: quite a shock to my pidgin-English imbued system. But now, strangely, I am sitting in a section of the aeroplane, surrounded by many jolly Spanish people. The ones next to me don’t speak English, and even our local friendly neighbourhood steward is a young Spanish man. Behind me, a couple of guys are chatting away loudly in Chinese, sprinkled with the now familiar words: “nai ga” and “ji ga” (roughly: “um… this… that… here… there”). The ‘back-to-England’ feeling isn’t appearing as fast as I’d expected!

I broke my journey back to Devon at my acupuncturist friend, Jane Robinson’s house, where we shared Chinese green tea on her beautiful, green, English lawn, outside her classically, golden-coloured stone Somerset farmhouse. Jane spread a rug on the lawn for us to sit on, but before I could do that, I needed to do something really important: I needed to roll my whole body on her lush lawn, and smell English earth under my nose. The sweet smell of my native ground helped me to feel more connected after a long flight from a different time-zone: from humid, beautiful, infuriating, crowded, friendly, noisy, fascinating, lovable Beijing.

Undoubtedly I will be a changed person from my journey. I can sense some of that change already, but as yet, much of it is a mystery to me. Time will tell, and the integration process will be gradual.

Now our traveller’s safely returning
From China; her bags filled with learning.
Though no Marco Polo,
By journeying solo
She’s answered some questions, so burning.

A sign in the hospital. Acupuncture is just another ordinary department in a Chinese hospital.

Final notes:

13 years later, I can definitely say that this was a seminal experience for me. My life and my acupuncture practice has benefitted enormously from my clinical and classroom time as well as my immersion in and the inevitable challenges that arise from living in a culture so very different from the one I am accustomed to.

Every week, in fact, most days in the clinic I refer back, in my mind, to situations and things I learned in China. I am so grateful for this experience in the land where acupuncture is simply ‘normal!’

© Cornelia Davies April 2019

Does tea count as part of our daily hydration quota?

You bet it does! (Though I might have issues if the tea is very strong or laced with sugar.)

So why do about 80% of my new patients say, looking slightly guilty, “I probably don’t drink enough water”? And why does this comment bug me?

Advice from NHS Choices seems to trigger people into guilt if they don’t drink 1.2 litres of water per day.

However, what NHS Choices actually says is, “we should drink about 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid every day to stop us getting dehydrated.” NOTE: it says fluid, not specifically water. I think most people have this information second hand and interpret it as advice to drink masses of cold water.

So (preferably sugar-free) weak to medium strength ‘builders’ tea’ is a perfectly good way of hydrating, as is Earl Grey, green tea, jasmine tea etc., numerous herbal teas and our old buddy, water. But please don’t add artificial sweeteners to any of these drinks, as there is increasing evidence that these substances ‘confuse’ our body chemistry, and there’s even a suggestion nowadays that they may contribute to obesity.

Many people drink warm/hot water, maybe with some added lemon juice first thing in the morning, which is a great way to kick start the digestive system as well as beginning the day’s hydration.

If you drink pure juices they will hydrate you, but do remember that fruit juices are high in fruit sugar, which, though different from added sugar, still isn’t great in large quantities. Also, too much fruit juice is not good for your teeth. Vegetable juices are good and a moderate amount of coconut water would be OK hydrating choices.

How much fluid is enough?

I can’t tell you exactly how much fluid you should drink, because that will vary depending on you, your constitutional health, your situation and the climate/weather. However, a good rule of thumb is to drink when you’re thirsty, provided you’re not ‘out of touch’ with this vital brain-body signal. If you work in a hot or air-conditioned environment you’ll probably need more fluid, and if you have a full-on job like nursing you will probably need to remind yourself to drink more frequently.

In summer I expect you’ll naturally drink more water, and more fluid in general, which is appropriate. You may also eat more raw foods, which have quite a lot of fluid in them, too.

In winter you’re likely to drink more hot teas, and to eat more stews and soups, which will also increase your hydration level.

The great British climate

Our ‘temperate’, i.e. mostly cold, climate is a big player in our hydration choices. We live more of the year in colder conditions than we do in warmth or heat. Therefore, it’s natural for us to gravitate towards hot drinks. Indian tea found its way here several centuries ago and it seems to have kept its place in the British heart (and stomach).

Most of us would probably prefer not to surprise our stomachs with too much cold water except in warmer weather, so there’s no need to. It’s great when we can follow our bodies’ signals.

What about coffee?

Coffee doesn’t really have the same hydrating effect as tea or water, as it’s mildly diuretic. One or two coffees per day would be fine for many people. Half a dozen would be questionable (for all sorts of reasons). So if people drink coffee I’m always glad when I hear that they also drink the more truly hydrating things like teas or water.

Soft drinks

Don’t get me started on highly sugared or artificially-sweetened and/or caffeinated soft drinks! That’s another whole topic, but unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years you will have heard the big debate that’s raging about these drinks.

The bottom line

NHS Choices is simply trying to herd a lot of different people with different backgrounds and lifestyles into a healthier place. I don’t envy them this job!

To sum up, drink a reasonable amount of hot/cold, yummy/bland, not-too-sweet fluids and you should be fine. And if you happen to like the British cuppa it can stay in the frame as one of the good guys in the hydration story.

Inspiration and thanks

My thanks to acupuncturist colleague Sandra Bird, who inspired me to write this blog. She posts photos of cups of tea from wherever she is… in the clinic, at a seminar, visiting China! It occurred to me that these cuppa photos seem like natural punctuation marks in her days, and what better way to hydrate the long ‘daily sentence’ than that?

© Cornelia Davies 2018

Posted by: corneliadavies | November 12, 2018

Is Acupuncture Like Counselling?

Is acupuncture like counselling?

No, acupuncture is not like counselling.

The nuts and bolts of acupuncture work via neural messaging to the brain, which responds by sending neural signals back to the rest of the body. Modern scientific research is ongoing in ascertaining exactly how this fascinating mechanism works.

There is a significant consultation period at a first acupuncture session, as it’s important for the acupuncturist to gain a full a picture of the patient’s health issues and history. However, this consultation is not counselling.

The consultation may or may not include questions about the patient’s emotional or mental well-being, depending on their reason for seeking acupuncture. Many people seek help simply for musculoskeletal issues, while others may be having acupuncture for all sorts of different reasons, such as skin or menstrual problems, headaches or anxiety.

Here’s an assumption I often hear

“Surely, acupuncture really works because you have time to talk your problems through with someone and that makes you feel better?”

Actually, no.

It is true that:

  • We spend longer with patients than GPs do.
  • We have more time to ask questions.
  • We may ask how patients are feeling about their illnesses.


  • We are not like GPs, who may be triaging patients in the direction of the right consultant or diagnostic process for their problem. People come to us specifically for acupuncture treatment and all it entails.
  • After the first, information-gathering appointment a small portion of each follow-up session will be consultation, while most of the time will be taken up with the acupuncture treatment itself.
  • If someone consults an acupuncturist specifically for anxiety or depression issues inevitably some of each consultation will be taken up with asking the patient how they feel. (More on this below.)

Why acupuncturists ask some patients how they are feeling, mentally or emotionally

Sometimes we need to know exactly how someone is feeling, in order to tailor the treatment individually for them. Here are two examples:

1. Someone consults an acupuncturist for an emotional issue, such as anxiety or mild to medium depression.

In this case, an acupuncturist needs to ask the patient specifically how they are feeling, in order to choose the correct acupuncture points for treatment. A person who feels vulnerable will be treated differently from someone who is feeling grief, or a person who is anxious, exhausted and bad-tempered.

If someone says, “I’ve been feeling a bit wobbly this week” we need to know what they actually mean by that. For instance, “A bit wobbly and constantly bursting into tears” would be treated differently from “A bit wobbly and feeling empty inside,” or “A bit wobbly and surprisingly grumpy with the kids.” In fact, each of these statements would lead to further questioning, along with looking at the patient’s tongue and taking their pulses, using techniques within acupuncture diagnosis.

Treating people as individuals is one of the very strong features of this system of medicine.

So, when someone looking for help with anxiety or depression explains to their acupuncturist how they are feeling this is not a counselling session. They are being questioned in order that the acupuncturist can work out the best possible treatment plan to address their problems that day.

2. Someone with a physical issue comes in one day with a new trauma, incidental to the physical problem

An example of this might be that someone who is receiving acupuncture treatment for back pain comes in for treatment one day and they have just lost their job or have a new family problem.

You may think this is irrelevant, as the patient is having treatment for a very physical problem. However, modern scientific research is beginning to show that our bodies do, indeed, respond to what we are thinking, so this new emotional trauma might slow down their physical improvement unless it’s addressed. Acupuncture has long worked on this basis, so if someone who is already responding to treatment for back pain comes in with an additional emotional trauma their acupuncturist will be able to construct a better treatment for them that day if they have more than a rough idea about how the patient is feeling.

So, there may be more questions, such as, “How do you feel about this?” or “Where in your body do you feel it?” or “How are you dealing with it?” There are many more questions that may be asked, and each answer will lead the acupuncturist closer to identifying the best treatment strategy for that patient at that time. Sometimes this sort of incident will bring an existing emotional problem to the acupuncturist’s attention, which may result in more precisely tailored treatment for the patient in future.

Acupuncture history goes back millennia, and diagnosis is comprehensive

Acupuncture has thousands of years of history, with the oldest written reference dating from 300 BC (this reference is, in fact, an entire book) and there are many, many further texts written since then. Therefore, symptom pictures and their possible treatment patterns are noted very precisely. Some of these symptom descriptions include details about attendant emotional or mental states.

There are numerous different diagnostic patterns in acupuncture, with diverse pointers within each pattern. For example, one diagnostic syndrome has a whole list of possible symptoms, including “dry cough or with sticky sputum, low-grade afternoon fever, insomnia, dry mouth, inappropriate grief.” I’ve chosen just a few of the symptoms stated under this particular diagnostic pattern. It’s notable that, alongside a whole host of physical symptoms, are the words “inappropriate grief.” What this means is that someone might be feeling grief when they haven’t been bereaved or lost a significant relationship or life feature (e.g. job). In other words, this person feels an inexplicable grief or sense of loss.

Many diagnostic descriptions within acupuncture texts include emotional or mental symptoms at the end of descriptions of possible physical symptoms, highlighting the importance for acupuncturists to gain as much varied information from each patient as possible, in order to optimise each treatment.

As a result of this balancing of the whole person a significant number of patients report emotional improvements alongside physical progress from their treatments.


Not counselling, but consultation

So, in our persistent questioning of patients, we acupuncturists are not counselling. Rather, we’re investigating.

It’s true that each acupuncturist is a different individual with a different skill set, and some practitioners may have had training in counselling or psychotherapy too, but acupuncture as a therapy does not include counselling as such. Sometimes, when a patient repeatedly tells me that past events are continuing to bother them I will mention that they might need to go to someone who specialises in a talking therapy as well as or instead of receiving acupuncture. I make it clear that I am not that person, so that there’s no confusion. Also, if I were to spend too long talking with someone it would impact on the time we can devote to the acupuncture, the reason they are in my treatment room in the first place.

Many of us are extremely interested in the human condition, or we wouldn’t be doing this job. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many acupuncturists, when undertaking this potentially forensic questioning do so with great respect and compassion. As individuals within the profession, we do care greatly for our patients.

Consequently, it’s inevitable that some patients will tell other people how supported they feel during their acupuncture treatments. I believe that this is how any healthcare session should be. It’s important, though, to note that the main part of an acupuncture session involves the acupuncture treatment itself, i.e. the settling or balancing of the patient’s mental-physical system, via the insertion of tiny needles, with the intention of leading to an improvement in health and well-being.

© Cornelia Davies 2018

April 24th 2006

Clinical training starts today. There’s a cycle ride to the hospital, so I got to the garden to do my pre-breakfast Qi Gong earlier than I had last week, and all of a sudden the Chinese vision I had heard about for so many years materialised before my eyes: people doing Tai Chi, Qi Gong and other exercise in the early morning in a park. Hooray!

Some people were alone, like me; some were in groups. While I did my Qi Gong, a little way away a couple of chaps did some Tai Chi, and a group of middle aged Chinese ladies did Sword Form Tai Chi followed by what looked like a semi-acrobatic dance routine, waving red fans, all to the accompaniment of traditional music on their rather tinny ghetto blaster.


After breakfast came the moment we have all been waiting for: the first day of clinical observation. At the hospital, a pile of standard issue white coats awaited us. My little clinical group: Britta, Axel, Baihe and I looked great. Baihe looked very chic in her own white coat. The rest of us looked… authentic: in white coats that were a little too large and a little creased, just like all the pictures of Chinese doctors I have ever seen!

As I posed for a group photo, I realised how very excited I was. For twenty-five years, I have been involved in Chinese Medicine in one way or another and have had people say, too frequently to count, “Acupuncture? Does it work?” It’s infuriating, but an understandable viewpoint from ordinary members of the British public. Now, for the first time I was about to witness it practised live in a mainstream Chinese hospital: not fringe, not freaky, just normal.

We were assigned to follow Professor X in the acupuncture department as he saw an apparently endless round of people. He would sit at his desk for the diagnosis of a new patient, ask questions, take pulses, look at their tongue, and then write an acupuncture point or herb prescription. All the time, doctor and patient would be surrounded by a group of interested bystanders: other doctors, Chinese medical students, friends and family, other patients waiting, and, probably worst of all, us foreign students (can you imagine?)

I must say, the patients bore all of this very stoically: it was normal for them. However, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for one or two in particular, for whom the questioning got quite personal at times. My heart went out to one softly spoken young woman who was suffering from tiredness, and who also had dysmenorrhoea and chronic constipation. With the large, attentive audience and our interpreter following with an English version of her story, to my Western outlook it all seemed rather invasive.

In between these diagnostic sessions, Professor X would go around the clinic and put needles in half a dozen patients who had already been diagnosed or were there for follow up treatments. Each doctor clearly has his or her own style, and the professor seems to favour using lots of back points with deep needling, cups and electro-stimulation.

On several patients he used Huo Tuo Jia Ji points, which are located inside the bladder meridian on the back. Apparently he likes to use these points instead of the back shu points because they are not directly over organs, and therefore he can needle deeper. And, boy, did he needle deeper… I’m not certain I would ever dare to needle that deeply (or even feel the need to). Apart from my having been taught a very gentle acupuncture tradition, and apart from the litigious nature of Western society, they just looked so deep. He was using 3-inch needles, up to the hilt (yes, I do mean that: the hilt). We’ll see how I feel in a couple of months. (Update 2018… No, I do not needle that deeply, even now!)

Not everyone got this very strong back treatment, and I was surprised that one woman who was suffering from numb hands just had one point on each arm needled (Pericardium 6): nothing else – the perfect, elegant, one-needle treatment we were taught about at college? Whatever his reasons, it was certainly a contrast to some of the heavy-duty treatments for the back pain/sciatica group.
I hope that as time goes on we’ll get more explanation of what the differential diagnosis is for different patients, but for today, it was stimulating enough: the two and a half hours just flew by.

June 12th

In the park this evening I saw a man writing beautiful calligraphy on the slabs in a paved area, using a huge brush, dipped in water. The hairs of the brush were about 8 inches long, and in a bunch about 4 or 5 inches in diameter, and the handle was long enough that he could use the whole thing easily in a standing position, slightly bending. This was a proper calligraphy brush, elegant, and with an enormous water carrying capacity.

As he moved on down the pavement, presumably writing a traditional poem or text, the characters a few lines back dried and faded from view. This was artistry of true impermanence: here and flowing, lasting for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and then gone. Perhaps the beginning of the stanza was gone before the end was reached – I don’t know. I’ve often admired the artistry and impermanence of the work of pavement artists who work in chalk, only to have their work fade or wash out within hours or days, but this was more transitory, even, than that.

With his big, water-holding brush, the artist was able to use blobs and strokes: delicate, thin lines and fat, satisfying strong lines. It was perfect: a calligraphy demonstration with no wastage of paper or ink. He had most likely scooped the water out of the park lake and into the recycled plastic bottle with the top cut off, which he was using as his water container. Exquisite: no stain on the planet, no throwaway, and a temporary addition of grace and beauty, leaving a permanent memory for me, at least, and probably for some others.

A slightly younger man stood watching him, clutching a wad of calligraphy texts, I think. His student? Possibly.

I think this may have been the original ‘poetry in motion’: for which the term was coined.

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