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Maintaining Immunity

Maintaining Immunity

There’s nothing like breathing 3 hours of recycled air on a crowded plane to focus the mind on the value of immunity.  Winter holidays are all about sharing, and share we do.

If you find yourself stuck between two sneezing seatmates without your Zicam (homeopathic nose spray) or your vitamin C, take heart and remember Louis Pasteur’s famous last words:  “The germ is nothing, the environment is everything.”

In his 11th hour recant of his famous germ theory, Pasteur realized that if the body’s cellular metabolism and pH is perfectly balanced, it’s simply not susceptible to disease; so a germ doesn’t produce disease any more than a vulture produces roadkill, or rats produce garbage.

In Chinese medicine there are four levels of immunity that must be maintained: wei qi, qi, ying, and xue, all of which are of equal importance. If you do catch a cold or get the flu, having strong qi, ying and xue immunity means you’ll get over it quicker and the symptoms won’t be as bad.

But prevention is clearly the best cure, and that means wei qi, or the exterior protective energy that keeps the surface of the body firm or closed.  It is the invisible suit of armor that the well-prepared traveler in this world doesn’t leave home without.

The Su Wen text (c. 400 B.C.) says that “Wind is the spearhead of a thousand diseases,” and is a pathogen in itself, but it also can combine with and facilitate the entrance of other pathogens into the body. If the body’s wei qi is weak, wind pathogens enter the first level of the body’s defense through the skin below the skull on the back of the neck (you feel a slight sore throat, possibly a slight fever) and makes its way toward the Lung, the second level of the body’s defense (sore throat and fever abate and coughing begins).

If the patient gets to his acupuncturist/herbalist at the first signs of cold or flu, when the pathogen is in the superficial, taiyang stage (you feel a slight sore throat and some light-headedness) the doctor will needle points on the Lung and Large Intestine meridians in order to “open the exterior” of the body to let the pathogen out and give herbs to expel the pathogen via diaphoresis. Your body eliminates the pathogen and you don’t get sick.

There are six levels of progression of cold pathogen through the body, three yang (exterior) and three yin(interior)—and each level presents with a distinctive tongue and pulse pattern as well as more and more severe symptoms of cold/flu. Your chances of avoiding a cold are always best if you get to your doctor while the pathogen is still in the most exterior level (this is the taiyang stage—the most superficial, skin level of the body). Opening the exterior and letting the pathogen out may still work while the pathogen is in the next two levels below skin level (the shaoyang and yangming stages) but at the halfway point of its progression from yang to yin level, when it goes from level three to level four, from yangming to taiyin stage (symptoms here include uncontrollable sweating, chills and fever, profuse watery discharge from sinuses and Lung and a pale complexion), the pathogen is too entrenched and can no longer be removed, and the treatment protocol shifts to tonifying (nourishing) the organs through which the pathogen will now travel, thus allowing the body to heal itself more quickly. If you mistakenly open the exterior when the pathogen is more than halfway through its circuit of the organ systems, you only invite more pathogens into an already compromised system.

For those who live in fear of swine flu and ever-stronger, more resistant strains of pathogens, take heart again: Eastern medicine may cast a broader, older nomological net over its patients, but its principles are strong, still apply, and have stood the test of time –because we are of this world, nothing in the world can be beyond our strength to withstand.

–Dr. Gary Danchak, OMD


  1. Li, Wei, L.Ac. & Frierman, David, L.Ac. Diseases of the Kidney and Bladder. Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, CO 2006.
  2. Young, Dr. Wei-Chieh, Tung’s Acupuncture, Chih-Yuan Books, Taipei, Taiwan, 2005

There Will Be Pathogens…


There Will Be Pathogens…


One of the hardest questions I have to field is: “how many treatments will I need?” I usually respond with something like: “you know, that kind of depends,” which sounds like somebody planting a major hedge (or worse, like the chiropractor on Two and a Half Men stalling for time as he calculates his boat payments).


I don’t have a boat, but I have a few minutes here to address the question.


Take for example a patient with low immune function. We figure out what energetic imbalance is causing it and we begin correcting that at root level, and we make sure at branch level to tonify wei qi in order to keep the surface of the body impenetrable to pathogens. Should be good to go.


But, there are pathogens and then there are pathogens. Your body is always fighting off some little pest and you’re usually blissfully unaware of it. But even if you have the mother of all immune systems, one day it’s going to meet the mother of all pathogens, and there’s going to be a fight, and someone’s going to lose.


So, it really does kind of depend. There are of course other factors that influence the need for treatment—how bad is your energetic imbalance, how many organ systems are involved, how long have you had it, are you adding secondary pathogens to your system by way of your diet? So, it just depends…


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And most of us hate answers like that. We are Americans. We’re logical, linear, scientific, Aristotelian thinkers (we who know for a fact that “A” cannot be “not A”).


The trouble is, energy isn’t necessarily always all that logical or linear. Or even scientific (google “string theory” for a free ride down a real rabbit hole or two).


Taoist sage Lao Tzu (600 B.C.) said:

To be bent is to become straight.

To be empty is to be full.

To be worn out is to be renewed.

To have little is to possess.

It sounds a lot like the Christian beatitudes. And in clear contradiction of the basis of Western Aristotelian thought, “A” can indeed be “not A.”


Reality is relative because everything is composed of energy (a rock, you, me) and is constantly moving and changing. Our bodies appear solid, yet science proves that little sub-atomic particles are constantly tearing through us without our awareness (nevermind permission), some no doubt whacking a few electrons out of their orbits—a bit of DNA in your brain, a hunk of carbon in your heart—but most passing through this relatively amorphous construction, our bodies, without much ado.


To my mind, all the more reason to use an energetic medicine to reset energetic imbalances.


[This meditation on relativity comes to you with thanks to Ted J. Kaptchuk, OMD on my annual revisitation of his seminal “The Web that has no Weaver.”


Dr. Danchak



Why Acupuncture/Traditional Medicine?


Why Acupuncture/Traditional Medicine?


According to the World Health Organization: 

  • 25% of modern medicines are made from plants first used traditionally.
  • Acupuncture has been proven effective in relieving postoperative pain, nausea during pregnancy, nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy, and dental pain with extremely low side effects.
  • It can also alleviate anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia.
  • In China, traditional herbal preparations account for 30-50% of the total medicinal consumption.
  • In Europe, North America and other industrialized regions, over 50% of the population have used complementary or alternative medicine at least once.
  • 70% of the population in Canada have used complementary medicine at least once.
  • In San Francisco, London and South Africa, 75% of people living with HIV/AIDS use traditional/traditional Chinese Medicine.
  • In the United States, 158 million of the adult population use complementary medicines and according to the USA Commission for Alternative and Complementary medicines, $17 billion was spent on traditional remedies in 2000.
  • The global market for herbal medicines currently stands at over $60 billion annually and is growing steadily.

And in recent news, acupuncture has been shown effective in reducing and reversing hair loss in chemotherapy patients; it also reduces the feeling of heat in chemo/radiation patients.


A 2002 German study compared the efficacy of in-vitro fertilization alone vs. IVF + acupuncture and found that acupuncture significantly benefits the treatment of infertility.


In this study, 80 women received IVF + acupuncture and another 80 women received IVF-alone. In the acupuncture group 34 women got pregnant (42.5%). In the IVF-alone group only 21 women got pregnant (26.3%).


A recent American study of 114 women yielded similar results: of the group that received IVF + acupuncture, 51% got pregnant whereas only 36% of women who received IVF alone got pregnant.


Perhaps even more tellingly, the rate of miscarriage in the IVF-alone group was 20%, whereas in the IVF + acupuncture group only 8% miscarried—and the acupuncture group also showed a lower rate of ectopic pregnancy.


Dr. Danchak



Insomnia and Chinese Medicine


Insomnia and Chinese Medicine


As the snow begins to fall and the wind whips over the mountains–and our garbage can lids begin their annual migration to Utah–we are reminded of the ebb and flow of seasons.


In Chinese thought, all of nature is a dynamic oscillation of two primal forces: yin and yang, cold and hot, dark and light, wet and dry, passive and active, female and male. Out of this simple binary system all of Chinese medicine is spun.


You’ve seen the t’ai chi symbol before: a black fish curled up next to a white fish. The black fish has a white eye and the white fish has a black eye–symbolizing that within yang is the seed of yin, and vice versa. So, within winter is the seed of summer. Or, it’s always darkest before the dawn.


No one is more painfully aware of this than an insomniac–bone tired all day but wide awake all night–a monkey chattering in his head, replaying old scripts and drafting new ones, dreading the alarm clock that brings another exhausted slog through another tomorrow.


In Chinese Medicine, one cause of insomnia is an energetic imbalance known as “heart and kidney not communicating.” This means that the water (yin) of the kidneys can no longer cool the fire (yang) of the heart, so you end up with empty heart fire rising up to disturb the mind (palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, “monkey chatter”) in addition to kidney deficient symptoms sinking down (low back pain, weak knees, poor memory, dizziness &/or tinnitus and poor hearing). In order to sleep peacefully, the heart must offer safe housing to the shen (the spirit of the heart), which it can’t do if it’s on fire. Differential diagnosis of this condition reveals a tongue that is red and peeled by heat and a pulse that is thin and rapid (or floating and empty) especially in the kidney and heart positions.




The yin of the heart and kidney can be replenished by herbs and acupuncture, and the imbalance corrected. If the condition is a long-sblueding one, it will take more adjustments to turn the pattern around, so an herbal formula is essential to reinforce the needle work.


If you’re an insomniac with peripheral pain (e.g. in the neck or knee, elbow or shoulder) chances are your pain won’t go away until you address your root disharmony. Think of how a body that is freezing to death prioritizes energy: it sacrifices circulation to the arms and legs and it shivers the flesh to generate heat–all to keep the organs alive. If your body has an organ imbalance, it’s going to divert every bit of its energy inward to try and fix the root problem, to the exclusion of peripheral aches and pains–and you will be stuck with those nagging aches and pains until you hear what they’re trying to tell you: to get back on the right path, the tao, and regain your natural balance and again flow effortlessly with the forces in the cosmos.


Dr. Gary Danchak


Acupuncture Goes High-Tech in South Reno


Acupuncture Goes High-Tech in South Reno


I was talking with a patient the other day, trying to plan a maintenance schedule with her, when I referred to an acupuncture treatment as a “tune up.” She laughed: “It is kind of like a tune-up, isn’t it?”


This got me thinking about some similarities: how preventive maintenance of a car is usually cheaper in the long run than just driving it into the dirt and replacing parts when they break. And how, if you like the car and want to keep it, it’s best to keep up with maintenance.


Some old-time gearheads still get misty when they talk about the “Italian tune-up,” basically just wailing mercilessly on your car it till you peg the speedometer, and “blowing out the carbon.” These days detergent additives in gasoline have drained the romance out of personal auto maintenance—it’s all done for you, gradually and with no risk, as you go. Regular treatment prevents catastrophic failure—a very good thing, especially if we’re not really talking about cars any more.


So I took inventory on what it is that makes a patient commit to regular treatment and came up with two things: feeling a change for the better, and seeing a change for the better.


Acupuncture almost always makes a patient feel better quickly which is why it’s imporbluet to get him or her to quantify (the old scale of 1-to-10) their malaise at the beginning of treatment because, thankfully, we do forget pain. But forgetting pain can be a bad thing because if a patient stops treatment before the root problem is resolved, the problem may well come back. If only a patient could see the imbalances I feel in their pulses…




That’s what brought me into the high tech world of computer diagnostics. I’m now using, as an adjunct to (never a replacement of) the traditional pulse exam, EMI (Electro Meridian Imaging). Now a patient gets a base-line, color graph of the energy in their twelve main meridians at the start of their treatment, and gets to see their progress over time as deficiencies and excesses of energy balance out.


EMI works by measuring skin conducbluece at the yuan source points (at the ankles and wrists) and spitting the numbers that were once crunched by hand (abacus?) into a computer, and then generating graphs of the energy in each organ system/meridian. It takes three minutes and you can sleep through it.


EMI has its roots in ryodoraku (“good electro-conductive meridian”), the first method of electronically measuring the energy in meridians, developed by Dr. Yoshio Nakabluei, MD in 1951 Japan. EMI was developed by an enlightened American acupuncturist, John Amaro, in 1982 and has become your acupuncturist’s best friend, not only as a highly visible, quantified educational incentive to patients (and a confirmation of the results of the traditional pulse exam), but because it provides two other benefits unavailable until now: 1.) the ability to ascertain a split value in a bilateral meridian (impalpable by traditional pulse-taking) which I then balance by using luo connecting points, and 2.) the ability to visualize the energy in the tendinomuscular channels (a completely different meridian system—superficial sinew channels filled with wei qi that serve as armor from invasion) thus pinpointing diagnosis and suggesting treatment for pain.


Dr. Danchak


Acupuncture and Herbs for Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss



Acupuncture and Herbs for
Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss


If you weren’t born with the metabolism of a Chihuahua, chances are you’ve managed to pack on a few extra pounds of winter weight by now. And if you’re like most people, you were probably already carrying a few extra pounds to begin with.


So, if you haven’t totally given up on swimsuit season, you can either re-visit the usual suspects—barbells and jogging, aerobics and that delicious half stalk of celery for dinner every stomach-grumbling night until summer—or you can use the holistic system of Chinese Medicine to get it right once and for all.


Acupuncture reduces cravings (and is widely recognized as an effective treatment for all kinds of addictions) and begins the energetic process of draining damp (fat) from the system. An herbal formula custom-tailored to the specific case (it’s not one-size-fits-all) continues and supports the process begun by the acupuncture treatment.


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Damp is an internal pathogen (cause by diet, stress and/or genetic factors) that exists in a range of density in the body. At one end of the spectrum lies subsbluetial damp—visible heavy fat; at the other end of the spectrum lies insubsbluetial damp—less dense but equally pernicious, that rises to the head and causes foggy thinking. The good news is that both are reduced as acupuncture and herbs drain damp and reinvigorate the spleen, and patients report feeling more clear-headed as they continue treatment.


Is it a magic bullet? No, it’s not liposuction or amphetamines or stomach banding. It’s not a passive approach to weight loss. Chinese Medicine is participatory medicine. If you show up for treatments and take your herbs, make dietary changes and get some exercise, a weight loss program with the assisbluece of Chinese Medicine is more palatable (fewer cravings), quicker (herbs and acupuncture boost metabolism and spleen efficiency), and more likely to succeed because you simply feel better while you’re doing it.


Also treatable with Chinese Medicine:

  • High Cholesterol: a dense form of excess substantial damp can be reduced with acupuncture and herbs.
  • Low Thyroid function: usually presents as yang deficiency of the kidney. This energy can be replenished by herbs and acupuncture; metabolism speeds up and people are better able to control their weight.
  • Excess Appetite: untreated damp in a system frequently leads to heat, which builds up when qi that is meant to flow becomes stagnated by damp. Heat then congeals the existing damp into phlegm, which is harder to drain than simple damp. This internally generated heat then invades the stomach, causing one’s appetite to increase, thus perpetuating the cycle of weight gain. Draining stomach fire eliminates excess appetite.


Not surprisingly, the people who achieve the best results are the ones who are motivated, not passive; people who put less damp back into their system between treatments; people who take their herbs. The result? Happier, healthier people who eagerly embrace swimsuit season.


Dr. Danchak


Parsimony—and Big Fat Yellow Worms



Parsimony—and Big Fat Yellow Worms


About 1,000 local Renoans recently traveled to China on eight Chamber of Commerce sponsored trips. My friend Kathy went, and everyone had a great time. One stop on the tour of Beijing was at the government owned Tongrenblueg herbal pharmacy, where men in white coats offered to do tongue and pulse diagnosis and sell herbal formulas. Young girls came out to translate. Kathy said about 60% of her group was diagnosed with something and bought formulas.


The doctors were baffled that a woman of a certain age, which Kathy is, would have no troublesome heat symptoms. In fact she says she is completely asymptomatic.


Ever the ambassador of goodwill, Kathy wanted to thank them for their time and effort by making a purchase, so she bought a one-month supply of herbs (two bottles of teapills and two bottles of herbs in capsules) even thought they recommended a three-month supply.


So what did Kathy end up with?




Translating the pinyin on the bottles reveals that she got some teapills for digestion (tiny bb’s of pressed herbs—very weak—but probably not a bad idea for a foreigner traveling in a foreign land) and some dong chong xia ciao (cordyceps sinensis, a fungus that grows on the hepialus varians larva, plus the larval bodies).


Nobody asked if Kathy was a vegetarian before prescribing dong chong xia ciao which Bensky describes as: “Good quality is intact with a short stick-like fungus and a bright yellow, fat, full, and round insect part with a yellowish white cross-section.” [Yep, Kathy’s eating big fat yellow worms. I wonder if I should tell her…] Old time Chinese doctors are pretty authoritarian guys—it’s a cultural thing, and besides, they don’t have time for chit-chat since acupuncture is free in China and they’re pretty much overwhelmed with patients. This also accounts, in part, for traditional Chinese needle technique—very heavy (painful) stimulation and very fast treatments (20 minutes). And they just assume you’ll put up with bugs and reptiles, insects and squirrel feces in your formula, so it doesn’t dawn on them to check it with you beforehand.


The Chinese rarely prescribe a single herb—Chinese Herbology is a very precise, elegant, 3,000-year-old, time-proven system of blending the yin and yang, hot and cold, tonifying and reducing properties of different herbs. Kathy’s single herb formula is indicated for Kidney yang deficient back pain and Lung yin deficient bloody phlegm. This seems to be a curious prescription for her, but then again, she was very likely working with a master diagnostician—some of these guys can feel what you had for breakfast in your pulse (I’m only half-kidding), and they probably detected something telling in her pulse, maybe even predicted and averted impending symptoms.


I practice a hybridized form of Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese acupuncture, simply because that’s what I’ve found works best clinically. I take a full hour (or more if the patient has more to tell) to get a complete medical history, then I do traditional tongue and pulse, and then I check myself with a computerized Electro Meridian Image graphing of all the major organ source points of the body. And I repeat tongue and pulse and a brief history before every acupuncture treatment or herbal consult. For me, it’s a cultural thing—we Americans love graphs and the relative certainty of being double-checked. And I always discuss treatment with my patients (because Americans are getting less passive about health care)—from the amount of qi stimulation they are comfortable with to the kinds of herbs they want to ingest. You can always work within a patient’s comfort zone and still get good results. My treatments last 40-45 minutes; some Taiwanese treatments go a full hour—it all depends on the patient’s needs.


Frequency of treatment averages once a week for the first month; then frequency is adjusted according to need. If I’m treating an acute injury, you might need to come in twice a week—the trick is to break the cycle of pain as soon as possible and treat again before it comes back full-force. For internal disorders, or pain that’s under control, most can stretch that out to once every two weeks or even every three weeks if they supplement with an herbal formula. The Chinese laugh at us for parsimoniously offering acupuncture without the support of a formula, but then, remember, acupuncture is free in China—where for 3,000 years the two modalities have always been used together (which begs the question: why didn’t they offer acupuncture treatments while they were selling herbs?).


Kathy has just finished her course of herbs and feels no different (at least until she reads this). But a friend of hers bought a three-month course of herbs to treat insomnia, and he’s sleeping much better. What should he do when he runs out of herbs, or if his energetic imbalance shifts and he needs his herbal formula modified? A three-month course of herbs is just a start in reversing a severe, chronic energy imbalance—and his results would almost certainly come better and faster and stick longer with the addition of acupuncture.


To the estimated 600 or so people who bought herbs in Beijing recently, you might want to find a reputable local Chinese herbalist, certified by the NCCAOM, to take a detailed history to find out if they’re right for you. If they are you might want to consider some acupuncture; if they’re not working, most likely the formula can be modified so it is effective.


Dr. Gary Danchuk


Never Needle a Crying Baby


Never Needle a Crying Baby

Taiwanese acupuncturists have a saying: “Never needle a crying baby.” No, they’re not sadistic monsters who need to be reminded of the obvious – the “crying baby” here refers to an area of pain.


Let’s say neck pain. Traditional Chinese acupuncture would start by needling into the area of pain, and then support the movement of “qi” through the area by needling points on the affected meridian.


I’ve been using Tung-style Taiwanese acupuncture for years now to treat neck pain, simply because I find it works better and faster. In Tung-style acupuncture, certain parts of the body represent other parts of the body, and these “secret points” are where you go to choose points to treat pain. For example, the Achilles tendon represents the spine, so you needle a specific point on that tendon to treat neck pain (there are also other neck pain points located in very specific, tiny groupings on the hands and fingers). It works remarkably well.
Dr. Tung Ching Chang (1916-1975) broke with family tradition and began teaching his treasured family’s secret points and techniques, refined and handed down over generations, to outsiders in Taiwan in the 1950s.




These techniques were probably once part of traditional Chinese acupuncture that became lost to China when Chiang Kai-Shek, trying to unify the splintered factionalism of the warlord society in China in the 1930s, made acupuncture illegal. He was hanging out with American movie stars and politicians, and wanted badly to westernize medicine in China. This forced the old techniques offshore to Taiwan, where, thankfully, they flourished. By the time Mao re-embraced traditional Chinese medicine in the 1960s, some of these techniques were already lost to China, and are not known or taught in acupuncture schools in the U.S., so I have been pursuing my study of Tung-style acupuncture with Taiwanese experts in San Diego and San Francisco for some years now.


Dr. Gary Danchuk