Acupuncture for Medication Withdrawal

By: Amanda Gawrysz, L.Ac, MSOM

Have you been told about the effects of eliminating your psychiatric medications? Detoxing from medication can be a very uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating experience. People are not often offered much for withdrawal support, which leaves individuals “white knuckling” through a rollercoaster of physical, emotional, and psychological distress. Not to mention, the psychological aspect that comes along with the decision to stop taking a medication that can be terrifying. Life may feel like an eternity as each moment passes during a medication taper experience. Utilizing acupuncture can help achieve a state of harmony during this process and promote a level of balance in your body that minimizes the intensity of these symptoms.

Acupuncture is an under utilized modality that can help ease the emotional, mental, and physical manifestations during this time. The body is in a state of disharmony and shock from the absence of certain chemicals that it was accustomed to receiving. It needs time to return back to its homeostasis. There is a real sense of urgency when in the transition period of a tapering plan and acupuncture can make this transition less intense.  

Acupuncture ultimately helps restore balance through the stimulation of specific points. By stimulating these points, we improve the movement of Qi (energy) and of blood to help relieve pain, increase circulation, stimulate the liver, and speed up lymphatic drainage to ease the negative effects of withdrawal. Your practitioner will target specific meridians and acupoints that are connected to your specific withdrawal symptoms and bodily imbalances.

Acupuncture during medication withdrawal can help with agitation and restlessness, muscle aches and pains, insomnia, nausea, vertigo and dizziness, headaches, depression, temperature fluctuations, and what patients describe as “brain zaps.” A rebound effect may also be experienced during tapering where the original symptoms return and are worse than they were before.

Many are unaware that endorphins are released from the brain during acupuncture. Endorphins are our natural pain killers which also have a calming and positive effect on our mood. The release of endorphins also help relieve those pesky body aches that may be experienced. Using acupuncture, you can take advantage of the body’s natural chemicals to calm your brain and provide relief that will promote staying sober.

Withdrawal can cause uncomfortable body temperature changes, especially from alcohol and opiates. Alcohol usually causes an increase in temperature while opiates may cause fluctuations between sweating and feeling cold. A study has demonstrated that in combination with electrical stimulation acupuncture reduced this unpleasant withdrawal side effect.

Acupuncture has been known for centuries to help relieve nausea and vomiting from pregnancy, chemotherapy, and postoperative cases. Medication withdrawal is no different. Acupuncture speeds up the elimination process and improves detoxification pathways to allow the chemicals from medications to be expelled out of the body more efficiently.

In the case of experiencing depressive symptoms from alcohol, opiates, or even antidepressant withdrawal is common. In Chinese Medicine, depression causes a stagnation or seizing up of liver energy. These drugs falsely stimulate the energy from the liver causing it to flow more freely throughout the body. Once these drugs are stopped, that liver energy once again becomes constrained based on the Chinese Liver System. Additionally, your Liver energy can move erratically when these medications are stopped causing something called “internal wind” in Chinese Medicine. Internal wind is a sense of movement where there should be stillness. This internal movement is similar to akathisia and is also considered to be a rebound reaction. This effect manifests symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, restlessness, tremors, and the brain zaps.  

The current common approach to medication elimination sets us up for failure. The process of medication tapering can feel overwhelming, discouraging, and impact our mental and physical body’s to a point where we decide it is not worth the effort. Acupuncture is built upon a foundation of ancient knowledge that can promote balance in your body and provide you with the stability that you need to take your withdrawal head-on and minimize the impact of resulting physical symptoms. Psychiatric medications can have an enormously positive impact on an individual’s life.  When a person is ready to move on without those medications, it is crucial that there is support provided to create a confident and successful transition toward independence.

Are You Eating Dessert for Breakfast?

By: Amanda Gawrysz, L.Ac, MSOM, Dipl. OM

Do you eat breakfast? Are you one of those people that like to roll out of bed and run out the door with a sugary snack? Or are you the one to wait for sugary snacks like donuts or cupcakes to be brought into work by your coworkers?

Many of us have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but many of us may not fully understand the true importance of making that first meal nutrition packed. A lack of time and a lack of hunger in the AM hours seem to be the two main excuses for skipping this important meal.

Processed and added sugars are the biggest culprits in the standard American breakfast; pancakes with syrup, waffles with fruit jams, muffins, donuts, French toast, cereals with artificial colors and flavors, and even granola bars are what Americans consider to be breakfast foods. By eating those types of meals and then adding multiple cups of coffee we are seeking a short-term energy boost that is artificial in nature just like the processed sugars being consumed. Then lunch time approaches and you are probably experiencing extreme hunger, a sugar crash, or are ready for a nap. Not only do you experience energy fluctuations throughout the day with this method of eating, but research shows that sugar and sweetness can induce reward and craving that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive recreational drugs.

Let's discuss how much sugar is actually in typical foods that are being consumed for breakfast. A Yoplait original strawberry yogurt contains 18 grams of sugar which is the equivalent of eating a vanilla ice cream cone with sprinkles. A Dunkin’ Donuts blueberry muffin has 43 grams of sugar which is the same as one 2.17 ounce bag of skittles. Are you feeling disgusted by this yet? The USDA reports that the average American consumes between 150 to 170 pounds of refined sugars in one year! We have become a sugar driven society. The food industry is fully aware of this and continue to pack more and more sugar into their products so that consumers become addicted and in the end buy the product again.

Not all sugars are the same. There are naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruits and grains that also contain vitamins and other nutrients including fiber that we all need for optimal gut health. Although fruits should be consumed in moderation, it is the added sugars and sneaky ingredients the food industry uses (like high fructose corn syrup and aspartame) that we need to look out for.

Sugar is a major life force and our bodies need it as fuel to feed the ongoing fire of life’s process. The sugars in whole foods are balanced with the proper minerals. When natural sugar is refined and concentrated, the life force is dispersed and the natural balance is upset. Refined sugar passes quickly into the bloodstream in large amounts giving the stomach and pancreas a shock. An acid condition forms which consumes the body’s minerals quickly. Thus calcium is lost from the system causing bone problems. The digestive system is weakened and food cannot be digested or assimilated properly. This leads to a blood-sugar imbalance and to further craving sugar.

Satisfying the sweet tooth can be a challenge. Begin by reducing the intake of sugar slowly and use some discipline and self-reflection to take you smoothly through the withdrawal symptoms of tiredness, anxiety, and depression. Suddenly dropping sugar usually results in a desire to binge. People who stop eating sugar nearly always experience higher spirits, emotional stability, improved memory and speech, restful sleep and dreams, fewer colds and dental problems, more endurance and concentration, and better health in general. Raw carrots are especially helpful for sugar cravings or eating something sour, pungent or spicy like warm lemon water can also diminish those cravings.

What if you changed your morning habits by either giving yourself an extra 15 minutes in the kitchen or by meal prepping the night before? Liquids like smoothies, green juices, and soups or bone broths are the easiest and quickest way to get a nutritional breakfast in. If eating three meals per day, optimal meal times are breakfast 7-9am, lunch 11-1pm, and dinner 4-7pm. Also, make sure to keep cold beverages to a minimum. The ideal time to drink cold liquids is in the afternoon when our body’s energy is at its peak. Drinking room temperature or warm drinks 30 minutes before a meal aids in the digestion process instead of slowing it down like cold liquids do or drinking during meals.

Refined sugar delivers high energy and enables one to keep working, but unfortunately it is addicting and contributes greatly to disease and unhappiness. While in very small amounts it can be used as medicine, in large amounts sugar leads to obesity, hypoglycemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, anemia, immune deficiency, tooth decay, and bone loss. Choose whole fruits and vegetables, decrease the intake of processed sugars slowly to avoid intense withdrawals symptoms, and make sure to eat a nutrition packed breakfast every day to give you the long-term energy you need.