Michael Barr, LAc, MSc
The first fifteen years or so of my NYC life were steeped in research and patient education, mostly at St. Vincent's Hospital (NYC) and with ACT UP's Treatment + Data Committee, and later TAG, with the occasional street protest mixed in.
Weekdays I was surrounded by and worked closely with doctors, nurse practitioners and social workers. Evenings and weekends more doctors (including the guy I was dating as I followed him through his internship, residency and out into hospital practice, and my flat mate in Los Angeles during my first years of acupuncture school), a PA or two, and what turned out to be a pair of MacArthur 'genius' award winning thinkers.
Alot of time too was spent in NIH and NIAID committee meetings and at medical conferences, either in D.C. or Bethesda, where a much younger Anthony Fauci seemed to give the same presentation (on T cell immunology) over and over but also had quite a prolific lab-- staffed almost exclusively with Italians!
The most exciting part was traveling the globe to present our research (and meet/learn from others) at the 2-3x annually international conferences. This was back when airlines like Pan Am and TWA still existed, when air travel was fun, fellow travelers well behaved, and whole aisles of seats often empty upon take-off, so that you might fully recline and catch a few restorative winks before taxiing into Schoenefeld, Malpensa or CDG.
At around age 40 or so though, I had to start considering how I wanted to age. Who did I want to be at say, 60? And I began to question the conventions that swirled around me about body building and foods, about medicines and health.
With the benefit of my sort of insider's window into the inner workings of 20th/21st century medicine, I arrived however belatedly at seeing Sir William Osler's (founder of Johns Hopkins) counsel as the wisest approach: "The physician's foremost duty is to educate the patient as to how to avoid whenever possible the administration of prescription medicine."
Where I had for years relied on SSRIs (Celexa, Lexapro) and anxiolytics (Xanax and Klonapin), sleeping pills (Ambien, Restoril, sometimes even Benadryl) and allergy medicine (Zyrtec, Claritin) and acyclovir (Valtrex), I later learned to look for and treat the root causes of my seasonal allergies, of my anxiety, my mood swings, my sleeping problems, even my herpes outbreaks-- and not only no longer rely on these pills (or even have them on hand anymore) but feel and look more like an informed (and pro-active) steward of my body. And I understand much better how the body and mind actually function.
A solid acupuncture session, where the person checks out for a spell and leaves feeling a little buzzed, sedated or giddy, can have a powerful effect on the HPA axis-- with all its attendant implications for hormone (including insulin, melatonin, cortisol) and and neurotransmitter balance.
It also seems to relax all the visceral tissues, making room for all their vital functions. "Rest and digest."
The changes are cumulative though. And even hard research has shown that durable changes in the HPA axis take approximately 12 weeks. So its best to approach the transformative effects of acupuncture with this in mind; that is, you will want to be able to commit to something close to 10-12 weekly sessions.
I am also happy to share what I have learned over the years about the mechanics of the human body (the source of pain is almost never where you feel it) and of nutrition (fatty acids, amino acids, minerals, elimination, toxicants) for anyone interested.