Archive | January 2011

Acupuncture for Cancer Care

Acupuncture as Complementary Care for Cancer, revised
by Dawn Balusik AP, DOM
(Excerpts published in Tampa Bay Wellness, Oct 2007)

While cancer survival rates are increasing due to advancements in cancer treatment, the treatments themselves are still very taxing to the body, causing numerous debilitating side-effects.  Acupuncture is a perfect complementary option to lessen these side effects, alleviate pain and help strengthen the body.  Because of this, many elite cancer care facilities including Moffett Cancer Center, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the Naval Medical Center (San Diego) offer acupuncture services.

Oriental Medicine for Cancer:
Oriental Medicine is the oldest, continually practiced form of medicine in the world.  It is just as valuable today as ever, because it emphasizes the re-establishment of natural balance and utilizes the body’s innate healing wisdom to gently address the underlying causes of symptoms.

Though it is a complete medical system, most Doctors of Oriental Medicine do not treat cancer per se.  Instead, we offer supportive treatment, using acupuncture, Chinese herbs and nutritional counseling to reduce the side effects of conventional cancer treatments, relieve pain, and to provide support for the overall health of the body.

Oriental Medicine for Nausea & Vomiting:
Nausea, vomiting and poor appetite are common side effects of chemotherapy.   Even with the best anti-nausea medications, 60% of chemotherapy patients still experience nausea and vomiting (Collins).  Acupuncture has been found by many research studies to greatly reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting; in fact, the National Institute of Health endorses its use.  For example, in England, a study of 130 cancer patients found that when acupuncture was added 97% had reduced or no sickness after chemotherapy (Dundee).  Numerous other studies support the same findings (Aglietti, Deng, Reindl, Molassiotis).

Acupuncture for Pain:
Because Acupuncture and Chinese herbs enhance the circulation of energy and blood through the body, it can decrease the swelling and pain of surgery, and the pain of cancer itself.  To illustrate, in 2005, the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association reported on several studies:  In one, the majority of 250 patients with gynecologic cancer had enhanced pain relief when acupuncture was administered as an adjunct to anesthesia (Menefee).  Another study found substantial pain reduction in patients receiving ear acupuncture (Menefee).   Cancer treatment–related pain, muscle and bladder spasms, and vascular problems all are found to improve with acupuncture (Alimi, Deng, Menefee).

Acupuncture for Increased Immunity and Energy:
Acupuncture helps build the immune system and increase the rate of healing, as well as boost energy levels.  It is ideal to use concurrent to cancer treatment (to reduce side-effects), before treatment (to help prepare the body) and after treatment (to build strength and prevent recurrence).

While it is advisable to not take Chinese herbal medicine during chemotherapy treatment, to avoid possible interactions, it is quite helpful to take individually prescribed Chinese herbal formulas before chemo has begun, and after it is complete. Several studies reviewed in Acupuncture Today (Sept 2005 edition) show that combining Chinese herbal formulas with conventional therapies leads to better treatment results with fewer hemoglobin changes, higher white blood cell counts, and lower recurrence rates than conventional therapy alone (Fratkin).  In another study, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, acupuncture was shown to reduce post-chemotherapy fatigue by 31% (, Cohen).

Acupuncture for other chemotherapy–related problems:
Acupuncture can help with a host of other chemotherapy related problems:  Because there is evidence that acupuncture can assist a variety of psychoneurological issues, researchers at UCLA recommend that physicians support their patients’ decision to use acupuncture for chemotherapy-associated cognitive dysfunction (Johnston).  Acupuncture is also useful to treat patients with radiation-induced xerostomia (lack of salivation), as well as patients with shortness of breath, depressed mood, leg swelling due to removal of lymph nodes, and menopausal symptoms due to tamoxifen therapy.  Acupuncture also improves arm mobility following lymph node removal from the chest area (Cohen, Filshie, Mehling, Menefee, Rydholm).

In my own clinic, I have also used acupuncture to alleviate dizziness after radiation therapy, and scar tissue pain from cancer surgery.

For those who are needle shy, a treatment alternative is acupressure massage.  Using the same acu-points, acupressure applies gentle sustained pressure, rather than needles.  It is a perfect choice for those who fear needles, or who just want to experience supportive touch.

A welcome added effect of acupuncture/acupressure is the deep sense of relaxation and wellbeing that is often experienced during and after the treatments; it can greatly increase a cancer patient’s quality of life.

Dawn’s Qualifications:
Cancer care is one of my passions, so I have become certified in “Acupuncture for the Cancer Patient” from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and read many books related to Integrative Oncology and the Oriental medical approach to cancer care.  I provide acupuncture, acupressure and nutritional counseling to patients in all various stages of all various types of cancer to alleviate discomfort, and to enhance energy, appetite and immune function.

I generally do not prescribe Chinese herbal medicine to patients undergoing chemotherapy, but I do like to provide it for patients who are complete with their chemotherapy treatments, or are not candidates for chemotherapy.

For more info on the care I provide for Cancer patients, please see my website page:

Aglietti, L., et al.   “A pilot study of metoclopramide, dexamethasone, diphenhydramine and acupuncture in women treated with cisplatin” Medical Oncology Division, Ospedale Policlinico, Perugia, Italy. – 1990. Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology. 26(3) p. 239-240

Alimi, David, et al.  “Analgesic Effect of Auricular Acupuncture for Cancer Pain: A Randomized, Blinded, Controlled Trial”.  Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 21, Issue 22 (November), 2003: 4120-4126

American Cancer Society Website. Website.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America Website.

Cohen, Andrea J, MD, et al. “Acupuncture: Role in Comprehensive Cancer Care—A Primer for the  Oncologist and Review of the Literature.” Integrative Cancer Therapies, Vol. 4, No. 2, 131-143 (2005).

Collins, KB & Thomas, DJ.  “Acupuncture and acupressure for the management of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.” J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2004 Feb;16(2):76-80. Review.

Deng, G, et al.  Complementary therapies for cancer-related symptoms. J Support Oncol. 2004 Sep-Oct;2(5):419-26; discussion 427-9. Review. PMID: 15524070

Dundee, J, et al.  Acupuncture prophylaxis of cancer chemotherapy-induced sickness.  Department of Anaesthetics, Queen’s University of Belfast. – 1989.  Journal of Royal Society of Medicine 1. 82(5) p. 268-271.

Filshie, J, et al.  “Acupuncture for the relief of cancer-related breathlessness.” Palliat Med. 1996 Apr;10(2):145-50.  PMID: 8800822

Fratkin, Jake P.  “Improved outcomes when combining TCM with Western interventions for cancer.”

Johnston, MF, et al. “Acupuncture for chemotherapy-associated cognitive dysfunction: a hypothesis-generating literature review to inform clinical advice”.   Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Mar;6(1):36-41. PMID: 17351025

Johnstone PA, et al. (Naval Medical Center, SD)  “Integration of acupuncture into the oncology clinic.”  Palliat Med. 2002 May;16(3):235-9. PMID: 12047000

Komen, Susan G.  The Breast Cancer Foundation Website.

Mak, Eugene, MD.  “Acupuncture in Cancer treatment.”

Mehling, We, et al.  Symptom management with massage and acupuncture in postoperative cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2007 Mar;33(3):258-66. PMID: 17349495

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website:

Menefee, Lynette, PhD & Monti, Daniel, MD.  “Nonpharmacologic and Complementary Approaches to Cancer Pain Management.” Journal of the American Osteopathic Association • Vol 105 • No suppl_5 • November 2005 • 15-20. – REF43#REF43

Moffett Cancer Center Website.

Molassiotis A, et al.  “The effects of P6 acupressure in the prophylaxis of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting in breast cancer patients”. Complement Ther Med. 2007 Mar;15(1):3-12. Epub 2006 Sep 27. PubMed # 17352966

NIH Consensus Statement (Acupuncture) Online 1997 Nov 3-5; month, day]; 15(5):1-34.

Reindl, TK, et al.  “Acupuncture against chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in pediatric oncology. Interim results of a multicenter crossover study”.  Support Care Cancer. 2006. Feb;14(2):172-6. Epub 2005 Jul 14. PMID: 16021478

Rydholm, M & Strang, P. Acupuncture for patients in hospital-based home care suffering from xerostomia.  J Palliat Care. 1999 Winter;15(4):20-3. PMID: 10693302

Dawn Balusik

The Goodness of Green Smoothies

We all know we need to be eating our greens.  But, let’s face it, how many of us are getting even 2 servings of dark green leafy veggies per day, much less the recommended 4 to 5 or more?  Okay, let’s back up a minute, why are greens so good for us anyway?

Why Greens?
It turns out that green “leafies” are actually one of the BEST foods for human beings! Why? Leafy greens are full of live enzymes, vitamins, alkalinizing minerals, antioxidants, fiber, amino acids (yes…there is protein in greens!)  and chlorophyll:  all of which are wonderfully nourishing and protective for human tissues and detoxifying at the same time.

Chlorophyll is what gives the leaf it’s green color and, interestingly, the chlorophyll molecule is only slightly different from the hemoglobin molecule (the molecule in human blood that carries oxygen to all of our body cells).  Chlorophyll is known to stop yeast and fungus growth in the digestive tract, counteract toxins and radiation, de-activate many carcinogens, counteract inflammation, and promote healthful intestinal flora.

Greens help nourish, strengthen and heal every organ system in our bodies, as well as support the natural detoxification and cleansing mechanisms that we are born with.  They give us more energy, cut cravings for sweets and stimulants, and prevent diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

In Oriental Medicine, greens are said to build Blood and improve the functioning of the Liver, which is responsible for removing toxins that come from the external environment and from our own body’s metabolic and hormonal processes.  This results in greater energy, better hormonal profiles, less depression, less PMS, luxurious hair, strong nails and dewy skin, as well as  better overall health in general.

If you are looking to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, greens have the highest nutrient density of any foods on the planet.  This means they pack the highest nutritional punch with the lease amount of calories. The more greens you eat, the easier it will be to lose those extra pounds.

Why Smoothies?
So, now that we know we need to be consuming a LOT more greens, how do we get them into our diets easily?  The answer is Green Smoothies:

  1. Green Smoothies are very tasty!  There are a lot of smoothie recipes out there.  Some are fantastic, and some are truly awful. On the Green Smoothie Recipes page, I have listed some tried and true recipes that my family loves, and you can experiment with making your own.  Initially you will want more fruit than greens, in order to “hide” the green flavor.  But as you become a seasoned smoothie drinker, you will likely find that you actually enjoy the refreshing green taste, and will want to experiment with more veggies and less fruit.
  2. Green Smoothies are easy to digest, because they are blended.  The blender does a far better job at chewing up the plant cellulose than people can really do themselves.  Many people who can’t digest salad can often digest some green smoothie, especially if some warming digestive spices are added, such as ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or clove. However, in order to further assist your body in optimally digesting such a large amount of concentrated nutrition, it is advisable to drink your smoothies slowly, and mix each mouthful with some saliva, as you would if you were chewing it.
  3. Green Smoothies are convenient!  A great, “grab and run” item on your way to work or school.  They stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  4. Green Smoothies are quick and easy to make, requiring no special or expensive kitchen equipment other than a blender, which most people already own.

Why Not Juices?
Some health-conscious people who are familiar with green juices may be asking, “Why smoothies and not juices?” Well, there are several reasons why I prefer smoothies over juices:  the Number One dietary priority that I recommend is to consume Whole Foods.  Whole foods are those that are as close to their natural state as possible. For example, whole grain brown rice, as opposed to white rice, and 100% whole grain bread, instead of white bread, which has been stripped of its fiber and its natural vitamins and minerals.  Any type of food that has been processed or “refined” is no longer a whole food.

Whole foods contain all types of vitamins, fiber, minerals, and health benefiting phytochemicals that number in the hundreds, if not thousands, many of which modern nutritional science hasn’t yet even identified.  Why not give ourselves every advantage in the quest for excellent long-term health by consuming as much of the beneficial elements that we can in the foods we know are health promoting?  The best way to do this is by eating them in their whole-food form, and this includes fruits and vegetables.

While juicing does create a drink that is full of vitamins, minerals and beneficial phytochemicals, it strips the fiber out of the plant. In this modern culture, where people are already not ingesting enough fiber, it makes no sense to strip it away.  Fiber helps bind toxins and wastes that have been excreted from the liver and gall bladder (such as excess hormones and cholesterol), and it helps sweep toxins, waste products, bad bacteria, yeasts and fungus from our intestines, while toning the intestinal muscles and walls.  Fiber also slows down the absorption of the natural plant sugars, so that they don’t unnaturally spike the blood sugar. Juice does none of this. (Plus, juicer machines are very expensive and time-consuming to clean!)

Basic Customizable Smoothie Recipe:
I’ve been making green smoothies for myself and my family for years, and we love them. They are a regular part of our diets, often substituting as breakfast or a snack, or a light dinner. They make us feel cleaner, lighter and more energetic, and even help eliminate sugar cravings.

There are many green smoothie recipes on the internet and in books.  Some are great, and some are not. I will give you my basic version here, which you can customize:

2 large handfuls greens (spinach, romaine, leaf lettuce, etc….mix it up!), 1 banana or 1/2 avocado (for creaminess), 1 cup fresh or frozen berries, peaches or pineapple, 1 cup water.  (Optional: 2 dried dates, soaked in water for 1 hr).

Blend until smooth and enjoy!  They are sweet from the fruit, with no need for sugar, sweeteners or dairy products.  For a creamier smoothie, simply add more banana or ½ avocado, or 2 tsp of hemp hearts (hemp seeds).  Simple, yummy and wonderfully nutritous!  Aim to drink at least 4 cups per day (32 oz).

Be sure to change up your greens every few days, so that you can benefit from the nutrition in a variety of greens. And skip the iceberg lettuce since it has significantly fewer nutrients than any other leafy greens.

Lastly, try to use organic produce when possible. Organic food is less toxic, tastes better, and is more nutritious than conventionally grown produce.  But it is still much better to eat conventionally grown produce than no produce at all.

For more info on Green Smoothies, check out the book & website Green for Life, by Victoria Boutenko, the website by Robyn Openshaw at, and

Dawn Balusik

Ear Stapling, Mental Shifting and Placebo

Originally Posted on Sept 17, 2007.

I got a phone call this past week, asking if I do ear stapling for weight loss. I informed the caller that I don’t do ear stapling per se; I do ear acupuncture needling, along with body points, nutritional analysis, herbal supplementation and exercise counseling for weight loss. She was not interested in these services. She fully understood that ear stapling is a derivative of acupuncture, but had no interest in the medicine from which this technique came. She hung up in order to continue her search.

Does ear stapling work?
I don’t have any experience with it to know if it actually works. In my training and philosophy, in most cases, it would take more than a single staple in the ear to shift a person’s entire energy balance (homeostasis) from holding onto weight to releasing it. (This is why I combine ear acupuncture with body acupuncture, nutrition, herbs and exercise. ) But, I also don’t doubt that the power of the mind, belief and manifestation is incredible, and if a person is “ripe” for a mental shift, a staple in the ear might be enough support for them to make the changes necessary.

Mental Shift:
An example of this powerful mental shift is a friend of mine who was a “closet” smoker. She wanted to quit, and tried numerous times over many years. It was so difficult for her that she often found herself in tears over it…ashamed that she couldn’t overcome this addiction. Interestingly, however, the minute she found out she was pregnant, she quit smoking with ease, and without looking back. A mental shift occurred when she realized she was supporting a developing life. And it was this mental shift that made all the difference in her experience of her addiction. Any power that it once had over her was gone in an instant.

Now, in the case of the ear stapling, if it is the “mental shift” that has it be successful, this would be called “placebo” medicine. Interestingly, in Oriental Medicine there is no such thing as “placebo”. The mind, body and spirit are inseparable…you cannot affect one without affecting the others, AND there is nothing a person could possibly consume or experience that wouldn’t affect the body, mind or spirit in some way, though often not in a predictable way. So, placebo is a fallacy. In research studies involving “placebo”, it is a valid idea, but only in that there are specific results being sought and measured in comparison to something else. Though a placebo can’t exist in the big picture, when looking for a specific outcome, placebo is possible.

Another word about placebo: many people consider the whole medicine of acupuncture to be placebo. This is not valid. Look at how many animals respond so well to acupuncture. It has been used on racehorses for decades with great effect. Another example is a canine friend of mine, who got acupuncture treatment for a hip injury and allergies.  After a 10-minute treatment, he rose to his feet no longer limping, and didn’t sneeze again for 2 weeks. Animals don’t have the burden of a mind full of judgements, opinions and beliefs to contend with, and oddly enough, they often respond more immediately to acupuncture than most humans do. This points to the idea that people’s minds are actually retarding the healing processes that acupuncture stimulates…the opposite of the placebo effect.

Dawn Balusik