Strategically placed needles are an increasingly respectable
By Miriam Axel-Lute
don’t have to be needle-phobic to be slightly apprehensive
about the prospect of having needles stuck into such choice
spots as between your toes, inside your elbows, or on
your scalp for 15 to 30 minutes at a time. But the rave
reviews of friends with migraines worse than mine, and
an increasing stack of scientific literature, finally
convinced me to try it out.
Charles Braverman’s Northern Boulevard office seems designed
to reassure suburbanite back-pain sufferers that acupuncture
is a serious medical pursuit. In modest beige tones, with
the name of the interior designer on a plaque by the door,
this office is clearly not a hippie outpost. Braverman
himself looks like he stepped out of the back room of
a finance company, neatly dressed in a crisp white button-up
shirt and tie. There is soothing music—but it is classical,
not whale song. There is a candle, but no incense. There
is a foot-and-a-half-tall anatomically correct male model
in one corner of the room with acupuncture points labeled
in Chinese, but the big poster of muscles and tendons
on the wall near the chairs looks at first glance like
something you might find in your internist’s office.
Once he starts his diagnostic process, however, the differences
between Braverman’s practice and a regular medical specialist
quickly become clear. “I begin with a conversation in
which I’m both listening and asking questions,” says Braverman.
“I’m also observing you, listening to the sound of your
voice, how you move, and watch how you respond. . . .
All of that gives me an idea of what the underlying issues
are.” I’m there because of headaches, but Braverman’s
questions range far wider than a neurologist’s would,
including side effects of my asthma medication, sleeping
patterns, menstrual cycle, general sources of tension.
He also looks at my tongue (with apologies first for turning
on the “nasty fluorescent lights” to get a good look),
checks my pulse at three different spots on both wrists
and feels for tension in my abdomen.
Only then is he ready for needles. And believe it or not,
out of I-can’t-even-tell-you-how-many hair-thin needles
Braverman places in my forearms, lower legs, and toes
for the first round, I feel maybe two going in—and even
those are no worse than mosquito bites. As Braverman feels
along my skin for what he calls the “live points,” I am
reminded of feeling along an asparagus stem with my paring
knife for the right place to trim off the fibrous end.
Behind me there’s a regular sound like a straw dispenser,
and I imagine handfuls of the little needles with their
colored plastic heads (different colors for different
sizes) rolling by the dozen into Braverman’s palm. In
fact, it turns out to have been the squirting of a bottle
of hand sanitizer. Good to know I’m in careful hands at
There is widespread, though by no means unanimous, agreement
that acupuncture works well for relieving chronic pain,
headaches, and nausea. Numerous studies have shown that
acupuncture needles can stimulate nerves in the underlying
muscles and cause the release of endorphins, which reduce
pain and induce relaxation.
But generalized nerve stimulation can’t explain all of
the effects of acupuncture, which is also used for specialized
problems like food allergies or carpal tunnel syndrome.
This work is often done by stimulating points far removed
from the actual location of the distress—points on the
toes are used for headache, for example. Chinese practitioners,
who developed the system over thousands of years, talk
about the effects in terms of energy meridians, channel
blockages, and yin and yang. They are remarkably accurate
at predicting results, but many in the West continue to
seek more quantifiable reasons for why.
In 1998, an initially skeptical physicist, Zang-Hee Cho,
used an MRI machine to show that stimulating acupuncture
points associated with vision (also on the toes) created
nearly identical brain-activity patterns as flashing a
bright light in the subject’s eyes. It remains unclear
exactly why this happens. Cho theorized at the time that
it was something to do with the nervous system, but Braverman
is a proponent of a different theory.
That theory holds that fascia—fibrous connective tissue
that wraps the organs in the body—has a measure of electroconductivity
that works as a messaging system. “If you could grab a
piece of fascia in the foot, and tug it in just the right
way, you could feel it in the neck,” says Braverman. “That’s
the most likely communication conduit. It’s not nerves.
If it was nerves, you would’ve been screaming in agony.”
No agony here. Any movement does cause little twinges,
however, so I lie absolutely still, which after 15 minutes
leaves me with rather chilly hands and feet. Other than
that, I can’t perceive any difference in how I feel from
what 15 minutes of relaxing on my back to soothing music
without needles would do. As someone who is neither a
knee-jerk skeptic nor wholehearted believer when it comes
to alternative therapies, such moments always cause me
a little angst. “Acupuncture works only with the resources
of the patient,” says Braverman. “There’s nothing on the
needle, I’m not channeling any universal energy.”
And so, ridiculous as it is, my first thought when he
returns and starts to take the needles out sooner than
I expected is that I’ve done something wrong: let my mind
wander too much, or upset the flow of my qi by trying
to see if I can make the mobile above me move by blowing
on it. But he checks my pulse and seems satisfied with
the results, though he does say later that the real test
is to see if the relaxation effect lasts longer than an
For the second treatment he works on my back, and adds
one of his specialties: microcurrents.
New York acupuncturists need to be certified by a national
board and licensed by the state. Braverman, like most
of his colleagues, has a masters of acupuncture, a three-year
degree. But if you visited any other member of the Upstate
Acupuncturists Association (membership: 17), you’d get
a very different experience. “So many of us have used
our education as a basis to go out and find very specific
treatment strategies that really ring true for us,” explains
Braverman. “For me those strategies are using sophisticated
microelectric equipment, supplements, detox programs,
allergy elimination. . . . Others are excellent herbalists.
Others focus their practice on trigger-point release.”
But with the way this week of work left my shoulders feeling,
microcurrents, which are particularly indicated for muscle
and tendon pain, sound like just the ticket. I’m almost
disappointed that I can’t even tell when the current is
flowing between the six sticky “therapy electrode” pads.
I leave feeling like I’ve a had a thorough massage. It
would take a few more visits to know if acupuncture has
something to offer my migraines over the long term. “Not
even aspirin works for everyone,” Braverman cautions.
In the meantime, if I can find that spot on my foot that
connects to that knot in my neck again, I’ll consider
it a good first step.
Bad Is Good Again
Those anxious in the face of contradictory fitness and
nutrition information, relaxyou may already be doing
the healthy thing
By John Rodat
friend of mine used to protest aggressively anytime someone
tried to cheer him out of a depression with the reminder,
“At least you’ve got your health.”
say that!” he’d yell. “That’s something you say to someone
who’s got absolutely nothing else going for them!”
It was an interesting point, one made all the more poignant
by the fact that, at the time, my friend was in his middle
20s. He was probably at the stage in his life where he had
the greatest expectation of health: He’d made it out of his
late ado- lescence without wrapping his Volkswagen around
a tree, and the prostate years were still way on the far side
of the male- pattern-baldness years.
But the vitality we took so for granted then, now has to be
cultivated: We keep regular doctors’ appointments, and agonize
over fitness regimens and specialized diets. We regard our
good health now like a responsibility, rather than a birthright.
The tricky part is, we developed all these wonderful, pleasurable
vices back when we thought we were immortal.
The good news is that nothing seems to be bad for you any
more—I mean, if you’re willing to do a little bit of armchair
investigation to rationalize those habits you have no intention—nor
realistic hope—of abandoning. Small price to pay, really.
[The Metroland chief counsel has strongly advised that
at this point a disclaimer be added: The following information
has not been reviewed by the Food & Drug Administration;
furthermore, the writer of this article is not a medical-health
professional, nor does he possess—to the best of our knowledge—any
expertise that would qualify him to outline a fitness program.
In fact, we’ve personally witnessed him make some truly inexplicable
decisions regarding his own well-being. Like this one time,
man, at the annual Christmas party . . . oh, the Metroland
chief counsel has advised us to stop now.]
Even cursory attention to the wire- service stuff on the health
pages of the local newspaper presents regular revelations
about the surprising benefits of stuff that used to kill you.
Remember when beef was bad, back in olden times? I have a
vague memory of it nearly killing James Garner, who—brief
pause for a heart attack notwithstanding—barely wavered during
his stint as red-meat pitchman. As Atkins dieters can attest,
the man was a visionary. There’s a restaurant right down the
street from my office that serves a delicious blue-cheese
encrusted sirloin, and—get this—it’s a diet food now! Just
have ’em hold the potatoes.
But feel free to wash it down with wine, red wine preferably.
It turns out that le vin rouge (if you’re patriotically
inclined, Liberty School is a tasty domestic) is chock full
o’ antioxidants, which block artery-damaging free radicals.
No, I don’t really know what that means either, but it sounds
awfully healthy. Cheers!
If wine’s not for you, you’re not completely out of luck:
Dark beers—the stouts particularly—have been found to have
a similarly salubrious effect. Research has suggested that
a pint of Guinness a day has the same power to reduce the
chance of heart attack as the doctor-recommended aspirin a
day. And, face it, no one is ever going to respond to your
invitation for a round of darts and Bayer—so stop offering,
It’s been suggested that the moderate consumption of alcohol,
in general, helps lower blood pressure and generally reduce
stress, which you’ve probably already slurred defensively
during an intervention or two—who hasn’t? In fact, moderate
drinkers really are believed to have longer life expectancies
than teetotalers. So, add that to your arsenal of unsubstantiated
excuses and run to the package store.
But if, for one reason or the other, you’d still prefer to
abstain—say, the preservation of your dignity and job security—you
needn’t limit yourself to tap water. Caffeine has been shown
to combat both late-life sexual dysfunctions and Alzheimer’s
disease, and hot chocolate also contains those miraculous
antioxidants as well as phytochemicals that inhibit platelet
aggregation, which can cause strokes.
So, is there nothing—no shameful penchant, no weak-willed
indulgence, no Puritan prohibition—that cannot be rehabilitated?
What about smoking? Surely smoking is still and forever bad
for you. Well . . .
[Once again, Metroland counsel has asked us to remind
you that the writer is not an expert, in anything. Really.
He may even be drunk right now. Seriously, don’t try this
. . . Some recent studies have suggested that smoking may
delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Not surprisingly,
these results are controversial and contested. One scientist
has sagely pointed out that smokers stand a lesser chance
of contracting the disease because, statistically speaking,
they’re already dead of something else.
But if red meat, coffee, booze and smoking are even conceivably
good for you, don’t you think you owe it to yourself to investigate?
Because if you don’t have your health, really, what have you
New clinical disorders that will be identified any day now,
and the pharmaceutical remedies that will appear the day after
an increas-ingly health-conscious country, and in true American
can-do spirit we’ve tackled a host of conditions, syndromes,
disorders and dysfunctions with all the brainpower and medical
technology at our disposal. Too sad? Take a pill. Too happy?
Take a pill. But the fight against nebulously defined phantom
ailments never ends, we must be ever vigilant—and we here
at Metroland are more than willing to do our part.
So, we marshaled an R&D team from our pharmaceutical department—which
is actually just two guys we know from college—and developed
cures for problems that have not yet arisen. Now, that
is service journalism.
obsessive need to point out to everyone within earshot that
you already know just how bad whatever you are eating/drinking/smoking/doing
at the moment is for you
pill for you: Rebelon
The problem: Illsuitor’s Syndrome
feelings of powerlessness when a restaurant you’ve chosen
fails to please a date
pill: Night-time Formula Sangfroidex
The problem: Marito-Flatterer’s Apnea
wife’s inability to fake acceptance of male pattern baldness
The problem: O. Henry’s Ague
compulsion to read the end of a book first
The problem: Hiltonnitus
ringing in the ears brought on by the cancellation of Fox’s
The Simple Life
The problem: Yahoothria
inability to end a pointless e-mail correspondence
pill: Emoticon-B-Gon Herbal Supplement
The problem: Southpaw
ink stains, problems with scissors and spiral notebooks, inability
to engage in pick-up baseball/softball or navigate dinner
The problem: Trebek’s Aphasia
inability to remember the best picture of 1940 or the name
of that plastic thing at the end of your shoelace
The problem: Toxic Banality Syndrome
inability to find a romantic partner dumber than you
The problem: Social Affective Order
outdated desire to have appropriate emotional responses to
The problem: Metallicitus
compulsion to illegally download music of artists you don’t
even like, just to be a dick
The problem: Supersizia
compulsive desire to upgrade
The problem: Registered Democrat
The problem: Digirhea
inability to settle on one channel for a whole program after
getting digital cable
pill: Spice Channel Chewables
The problem: Dysphoraphoria
unshakeable fear that you lead a too-well-balanced life