Imagine six people (five women and a man) with tiny needles in their ears, sitting in front of a large, fascinated audience. This was the dramatic climax to an evening of exploration into Complementary and Integrative Medicine at the most recent session of The Greens at Cannondale’s Community Education Series. The needles in their ears was a demonstration of auricular acupuncture, a technique of integrative medicine that is particularly useful in healing, since the ear has nerve endings from every part of the body.
Auricular acupuncture is one of the more dramatic aspects of the alternative approaches to traditional methods of surgery and medications presented by Dr. Mary Guerrera, who is professor and director of integrative medicine in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Herbs and spices, intentional exercise, meditation, massage, a healthy diet, and a nontoxic environment all add up to alternative ways to heal, treat, cure, and often prevent illness.
Guerrera opened the meeting with one of the most important — and usually neglected — factors: breath. She taught the audience breath relaxation exercises to manage stress. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when first taken but lose their power over time, this kind of deep, measured breathing becomes more powerful with repetition.
“Integrative medicine is emerging as a new field of health care, though many of the techniques and materials go back thousands of years to Chinese and Japanese medicine,” Guerrera said. “The use of herbs and plants can be more effective than chemically processed medication without side effects.”
Biodots, small plastic circles, were distributed to stick on the hand. They were skin thermometers that change color to indicate levels of stress. Watching them change from black (very tense) to green (involved, normal) or blue (calm) was surprising, and appeared to be accurate signs of levels of stress.
“When tension levels are known, breathing correctly can reduce the source of stress and lower tension, often more easily and sooner than conventional tranquilizers,” Guerrera said.
As for food, “I truly believe that you are what you eat, and today’s fast food, take-out meals, packed with sodium and, until very recently, trans fats (added to prolong shelf life) have been considered adequate nutrition for many families. Yet we know that fruits, vegetables, whole and cracked grains, beans, legumes, and healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, walnuts) are the basis of a healthy anti-inflammatory diet,” the doctor said. “The Mediterranean diet has had the most lasting effect, and helps to protect against diabetes, while other trendy diets come and go.”
As an addition to traditional medicine, the techniques of complementary medicine often can help manage pain, increase energy and initiate a more well-balanced lifestyle. Currently, one-third of the U.S. population is using some form of complementary medicine.
Is it covered by insurance? There is some coverage, but that is still an obstacle for the greater use of massage, mindfulness therapy and acupuncture. That is slowly changing, as the benefits of complementary and integrative medicine are understood.