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Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Climate Change Could Sting Allergy, Asthma Sufferers
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
38% of U.S. Adults Use Alternative Treatments
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
Meditation May Boost Short-Term Visual Memory
ANIMAL CARE
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Safe Toys for Dogs
Beware of Dog Bites
BONES & JOINTS
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Varicose, Spider Veins May Be Inevitable for Some
Low Vitamin D Raises Women's Hip Fracture Risk
CANCER
Vitamin D May Improve Melanoma Survival
Where You Live May Affect Your Cancer Diagnosis
Well Water Might Raise Bladder Cancer Risk
CAREGIVING
Recession Scrambling Health Spending in U.S.
Medication Errors Could Be Cut: Experts
Omega-3 Fatty Acid May Help 'Preemie' Girls' Brains
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
Vitamins Do Older Women Little Good
COSMETIC
Health Tip: After Liposuction
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Acid Drinks Blamed for Increase in Tooth Erosion
Mom's Vitamin D Levels Affect Baby's Dental Health
An Oral Approach to Heart Disease
DIABETES
Arthritis Hits More Than Half of Diabetics
Study Shows Turmeric May Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Spices, Herbs Boost Health for Diabetics
DIET, NUTRITION
Antioxidants Abound in Cereals, Popcorn, Whole-Grain Snacks
Teens Lose More Weight Using Healthy Strategies
Mediterranean Diet Plus Exercise Lowers Alzheimer's Risk
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
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Golf Course Insecticides Pose Little Danger to Players
Improved Fungicides May Be Easier on Environment
Plastics Chemical Tied to Aggression in Young Girls
EYE CARE, VISION
Green Tea May Ward Off Eye Disease
Blood Sugar Control Helps Diabetics Preserve Sight
Eye Test Could Spot Diabetes Vision Trouble Early
FITNESS
Exercise Extends Life of Kidney Patients
Run for Your Life
Simple Steps Get Walkers Moving
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
HRT Use Raises Risk of Stomach Trouble
New Guidelines Issued for Management of IBS
GENERAL HEALTH
What you need to know about swine flu.
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
Study Supports Swine Flu's Pandemic Potential
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Too-Low Blood Pressure Can Also Bring Danger
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Drinking Your Way to Health? Perhaps Not
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
The HPV Vaccine: Preventative Medicine or Human Sacrifice?
Viral Infection Might Trigger High Blood Pressure
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Teen Stress May Have Roots in First Three Years of Life
Teens Lose More Weight Using Healthy Strategies
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MEN'S HEALTH
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Whole Grains, Bran May Fight Hypertension in Men
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MENTAL HEALTH
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Bullying Seems to Affect Kids Years Later
A Little Alcohol May Stave Off Alzheimer's
PAIN
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Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
Pre-Pregnancy Weight Linked to Babies' Heart Problems
Expectant Mom's Exercise Keeps Newborn's Birth Weight Down
SENIORS
Keeping Mentally Active Seems To Keep The Brain Active
More Whole Grains May Mean Less Fat
Older People at Greater Risk of Swine Flu Death
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Most Women With Osteoporosis Unaware of Raised Fracture Risk
Iodine in Prenatal Vitamins Varies Widely
Simple Carbs Pose Heart Risk for Women
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Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch

Things were looking grim, but then a concerned friend took the 10-year-old to an acupuncturist, who treated her three times in half-hour sessions.

"Almost immediately after the first treatment, Nelly's energy went from zero to 100," recalled that friend, Annie Washburn, who works as a community organizer in New York City. Nelly became more mobile, ate more and resumed regular bowel movements. "She bounced back in a way that seemed miraculous," Washburn said

It's a story that might be familiar to people who've benefited from the ancient healing technique. But Nelly, who lives with Washburn, is a frisky, fluffy bichon frise.

"I'm not really into alternative therapies, that's not my thing," Washburn stressed. "But this was really unbelievable."

Dr. Leilani Alvarez, the veterinary acupuncturist who treated Nelly, confessed that even she was once a bit skeptical of what acupuncture could do for four-footed patients.

But hundreds of successful cases later, "it's far surpassed my expectations," said Alvarez, who practices animal acupuncture and traditional veterinary medicine -- often in combination -- at Katonah Bedford Veterinary Center in Bedford Hills, N.Y.

Alvarez noted that many of the referrals she gets are for animals that have not fared well with conventional drugs or other Western medical approaches. In one case, a woman brought a beloved, aging dog to Alvarez's clinic after a gradual weakening of the dog's hind legs had led to fecal incontinence.

"As you can imagine, not many owners can tolerate that for very long," Alvarez said. All the usual treatments had failed to work, and the woman was distraught, even considering euthanizing her pet.

That didn't happen. "I started acupuncture on that dog, and after just two treatments, the fecal incontinence resolved," Alvarez said.

Experts point out that animals have been treated with acupuncture therapy from the very beginning. In fact, Chinese records that go back thousands of years describe the use of healing needles on horses and other livestock.

One common myth: Many people believe that patients must "believe" in acupuncture for it to work, ruling out its use in animals.

"But actually, it doesn't require any higher brain processes to function," Alvarez said. "It simply works because of what it stimulates physiologically in the body when you insert a needle into these points that have been studied for thousands of years."

The points, referred to as loci, represent important locations for nerves and blood vessels that, when manipulated, somehow aid healing, experts say. Acupuncture works in humans, horses, dogs, cats and other mammals "because all our bodies share similar features," explained Dr. Mark Crisman, a professor at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine who specializes in treating larger animals, such as horses.

Over time, he said, veterinary acupuncturists have created "transpositional maps" that shifted the well-known acupuncture points of the human body to animals. This wasn't always easy. "Obviously, horses don't have five fingers like people do," Crisman said. "So, the experts took the points that were equivalent to points on our hands and transposed them around the hooves."

Today, Crisman teaches a certifying course at the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, which lists more than 2,000 members worldwide, with hundreds practicing in the United States. Two other centers -- one at the Chi Institute in Florida and another at Colorado State University -- offer degrees in the practice.

Crisman said that veterinary acupuncture has proven effective in healing or easing the symptoms of arthritis, acute injuries, hip dysplasia, respiratory disorders, immune system ailments and a host of other problems. It appears to work on a wide range of livestock and household pets, even creatures as small as gerbils and birds. Some specialists have used acupuncture to enhance the fertility of Kentucky racehorses, Crisman said.

A small minority of animal patients balk at the idea of having needles poked in them, the experts said, but most actually appear to enjoy their treatments. That may be because acupuncture seems to release natural painkillers called endorphins.

"Usually by the second or third treatment, they will just lie down, ready for their treatment," Alvarez said. "I have one cat that's known in the rest of the practice as a rather fractious cat. But this cat will literally purr during his treatment."

Both Alvarez and Crisman stressed that while acupuncture sometimes works well on its own, it is often best used alongside Western medicine. "If you have an infection, for example, and perhaps the infection is a result of poor circulation to that area, then you can improve the circulation [with acupuncture] and use the antibiotics to kill the bugs," Alvarez said.

According to the experts, pet owners who decide to seek out an acupuncturist should make sure the practitioner is certified by one of the three U.S. centers, guaranteeing that the person has undergone the required months of rigorous training.

For her part, Washburn worries that too many pet owners don't recognize acupuncture as a potential treatment option.

"I sometimes see people on the street with a dog that's wobbly or it looks like it's limping, an older dog in pain," Washburn said. "I always tell the owners that they should try it. They probably think I'm crazy. But I'm fully convinced that it extended the life of my beloved pet."

- E.J. Mundell

More information

The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society has more on veterinary acupuncture.



SOURCES: Mark Crisman, D.V.M., professor, clinical services/medicine, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Blacksburg, Va., and certifying instructor, International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, Fort Collins, Colo.; Leilani Alvarez, D.V.M., Katonah Bedford Veterinary Center, Bedford Hills, N.Y.; Annie Washburn, New York City

Last Updated: March 03, 2009

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Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
Contributed Photo

Annie Washburn & Nelly