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Puncturing Skepticism About Healing Power

The Jamaica businesswoman waited a full year before writing to her doctor to thank him for having recommended that she try acupuncture for the excruciating back pain the doctor had been unable to relieve.

It took that long before she was truly convinced that the alternative th

erapy was not some quick fix, but a lasting one.


She had leafed through the Yellow Pages, settling on a practitioner of the ancient medical technique, Henry Zhong-Hong Lee, and made an appointment to see him.


“He promised that I would be relieved of pain after eight weekly treatments,” the woman wrote in the letter she ultimately sent her doctor. Contrary to Lee’s prediction, she stated, “I have been pain-free after only six treatments.”


“I waited a year before writing this letter,” the businesswoman wrote, “because I wanted to be certain that I was not dependent upon treatment or psychosomatic suggestions.”


Her initial trepidation wasn’t that unusual. Although acupuncture predates recorded history and has been practiced in China for about 6000 years, it only started to gain acceptance in the United States in 1972.


The idea of using needles, even hair-thin and largely painless ones, to treat a vast range of ailments is still viewed with skepticism by many Americans. (Her letter and others like it are testimonials that were sent to Lee, but he declined to release names to protect their privacy.)

But this ancient method of healing is becoming increasingly popular, as more and more people, who generally turn to it as a last resort, have experienced relief from conditions that sometimes baffle mainstream physicians.


With the help of acupuncture, some people have stopped smoking, lost weight, or recovered strength and coordination in their battle with multiple sclerosis. Others become fertile, get relief from hives, carpal tunnel syndrome, or sciatica.


A Long Island woman, who said she “stumbled along, out of control with vertigo,” credits acupuncture for helping her to walk straight and “for allowing me to reclaim my life.”


A patient with neuralgia, a nervous-system disorder, said acupuncture gave her once again “the ability to speak with ease, eat, and smile.”


Still another convert to acupuncture, a 78 year old woman who suffered with herniated discs, sciatica, headaches, neck aches, and back pain, said “I am now chasing my grandson all around the house.”


All have been patients of Lee, the president of the American Acupuncture Association. A state-licensed acupuncturists and an expert in Chinese herbal medicine, Lee treats them at his East West Natural Healing Center, which had offices in Flushing and Hicksville.


Lee has been a practitioner of acupuncture for 24 years. He was born in China and was introduced to the treatment method at age 16; he was an apprentice to a doctor on a farm where he was sent to toil during the Cultural Revolution.


Years of training in traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, and Western medicine, including psychiatry and neurology, followed. The preparation, Lee said, equipped him to earn a degree in Eastern medicine form Traditional Chinese Medical College and a degree in Western medicine form Beijing Medical College. Working alongside famous Chinese medical experts, he developed his own systems, plus an ability to “tailor” herbs to each patient’s condition.


“I learned a lot,” said Lee, “I spent years doing research.” He is 

also a member of the World Acupuncture Organization headquartered in Beijing, China.


Lee arrived in the United States 14 years ago. He soon began the process of qualifying as a New York State certified MD but had to give up the effort because his wife became pregnant with their first child.


He received his acupuncture license in 1992. “I needed to support my family,” he said.

But Lee also realized he’d found his niche in what he likes to call natural medicine.


“I like natural treatments. If I become a medical doctor, I can make a lot of money, but I don’t like drugs,” he said.


He dispels the doubts of some people who feel they have to believe in acupuncture for it to work.


“It does not matter if you believe in acupuncture or not,” Lee said. Needles, he explained, are inserted at points in the body determined by the patient’s condition, channeling energy (known as “qi”, pronounced “chee”) along pathways known as meridians.


“All the signals are forwarded to the brain,” Lee said, to trigger a self-healing system, “When you turn this system on, the brain will have a chemical reaction

 that releases special neurotransmitters, and that feeds back to the whole body, balancing the whole body.”


“All healing takes place in the brain.” Lee went on.


Stress, pollution, diet, lifestyle, and other factors can weaken the immune system, limiting the body’s ability to fight back, he said. “We use acupuncture and herbs to correct immune system disorders and the conditions.


Only disposable needles, each one in a separate package, are used in acupuncture, as required by law, Lee said. And only acu

puncturists licensed by the state should be consulted, he said.


Researcher Jeffrey A. Singer, in a paper posted on the Internet, further explained the potential benefits of acupuncture.


“A person’s health is influenced by the flow of qi in the body…the qi consists of all essential life activities, including the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical aspects of life. If the flow of qi is insufficient, unbalanced, or interrupted, illness may occur.” Singer writes.


Treatment may be augmented by heat and electrical stimulation of the needles, he adds.


Lee said acupuncture is often used for health maintenance, just as motorists give their car an occasional tune-up.


“Many Hollywood stars use it,” he said. “They don’t have problems, but they want to stay in shape.”


The American Medical Association is cautious about alternative medicines and doesn’t comment specifically about acupuncture.


“There is little evidence to confirm the safety or efficacy of most alternative therapies.” Reads am AMA policy statement. “Much of the information currently known about these therapies makes it clear that many have not been shown to be efficacious.”


“Well-designed, stringently controlled research should be done to evaluate the efficacy of alternative therapies,” the statement goes on.


“Physicians should routinely inquire about the use of alternative or unconventional therapy by their patients and educate themselves and their patients about the state of scientific knowledge with regard to alternative therapy that may be used or contemplated.”


And the policy further stated, “Patients who choose alternative therapies should be educated as to the hazards that might result from postponing or stopping conventional medical treatment.”


At least one HMO, viewing acupuncture as an aid to traditional medicine, has added the therapy to yoga, massage, and other alternative treatments it recommends. Oxford Health Plans lists Lee among its more than 2200 alternative-medicine providers.


Oxford members can obtain his services at a discount. This availability may augur a bright future for acupuncture.


Lee believes the therapy will eventually become ancillary to mainstream medicine. “In China, we have this system already,” he said. “It works very well.”