Pins and needles

Two local acupuncturists talk about Eastern medicine coming West

Adam Moes runs Acupuncture and Herbs out of his East 18th Street home.

Adam Moes runs Acupuncture and Herbs out of his East 18th Street home.

Photo By Matt Siracusa

In 1971, the late journalist James Reston was traveling in China during President Richard Nixon’s historic trip there and found himself having to get an emergency appendectomy at Beijing’s Anti-Imperialist Hospital. The article Reston wrote for the New York Times upon his return (“Now Let Me Tell You About My Appendectomy in Peking,” July 26, 1971), in which he wrote of how his postoperative pain was relieved in the hospital by the use of acupuncture, was the first discussion of acupuncture that appeared in the United States’ English-speaking mass media.

Reston’s article proved to be the turning point for acupuncture in the United States—the point at which the 2,000-year-old Chinese medical procedure came to the attention of more than just those who embraced alternative lifestyles in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Since 1971, the use of acupuncture—loosely defined as the procedure of inserting very slender needles into certain strategic points on the body for the relief of pain and/or for other therapeutic reasons—has grown slowly but surely in the Western world as a means for treating pain, asthma and substance abuse, among other ailments.

In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a statement affirming that “acupuncture is effective in adult post-operative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in post-operative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal-tunnel syndrome and asthma where acupuncture may be useful as an alternative treatment or as part of a comprehensive management program.”

“It stands out as something sensational,” said local acupuncturist/Chinese herbalist Adam Moes of the milestone of Reston’s positive account of the benefits of acupuncture.

Moes, who conducts his practice—succinctly named Acupuncture and Herbs—out of the large East 18th Street home he shares with his wife, local midwife Dena Moes, and their two young daughters, has been a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist for almost nine years.

Many of Moes’ clients come to him suffering from pain—most often low back pain, neck pain, carpal-tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia. A number come to him for relief from chronic-fatigue syndrome, allergies and asthma, and for help with depressed immune systems, menstrual irregularities and fertility problems.

Recently, said Moes, he is seeing an increase in military veterans coming to him for help with pain problems.

“Acupuncture is so good at dealing with chronic pain,” said Moes.

When asked how acupuncture works, he answered, “Two words: blood flow.”

“The image of health is the pink baby,” explained Moes. “[A baby] has a total profusion of oxygenated, well-nourished blood, and it has the capacity to draw out all the toxins and waste products of metabolic processes. If you have that kind of blood flow going everywhere, you’ve got health.”

Acupuncture, combined often with a regimen of appropriate Chinese herbs, said Moes, will stimulate the body’s blood flow and improve health.

Before becoming an acupuncturist-herbalist, Moes had a “past life,” as he put it, in the film industry in San Francisco in the 1980s doing sets, props and special effects for national television commercials.

Adam Moes applies needles to a client’s skin to help relieve pain.

Photo By Matt Siracusa

“Film wasn’t somehow fulfilling my soul,” said Moes. “I went back to school to get a [bachelor’s] degree in psychology, and then I traveled to India for a year.”

It was in India, in 1992, that Moes became intimately acquainted with Asian medicine.

“My fellow travelers got the ‘Delhi belly,’ the ‘travelers’ trots,’ ” said Moes. “They’d go and get the antibiotics and they’d get better. And they’d get worse again. I got the same ‘gunk’ and I went to see Tibetan doctors [in India]. I was amazed. They diagnosed me just by looking at me, and then they gave me rolled, handmade, herbal pills…and I got better. And I didn’t get sick again for the whole year. … I knew there was something to it.”

After India, Moes returned to California and earned his certification in Swedish and Esalen massage at Sebastopol Massage Center.

“That was the start of my journey as a healer,” offered the soft-spoken 45-year-old.

Moes next attended Five Branches University, in Santa Cruz, for an intensive four-year post-graduate program in traditional Chinese medicine—a combination of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. He was required to have “all of the pre-med classes under [his] belt” prior to admission to Five Branches—physics, biology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathophysiology and chemistry.

“As a Westerner, I see the strengths of the Western system,” Moes said. “If you have a broken bone, you’ve got to get it set.” He also mentioned antibiotics and surgery as plusses of Western medicine.

“But a big problem of Western medicine is how it deals with pain—using opiates, numbing people to pain,” added Moes. “But the pain isn’t a disease. It’s a positive symptom that points to what’s wrong. And…we have to ask, ‘Why isn’t there blood flow here? Why isn’t there healing here?’ ”

Perry Fox, herbalist and office manager of The Vitamin Fox, a walk-in herbal pharmacy and acupuncture clinic on Mangrove Avenue, echoes Moes in regard to the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating pain.

Fox—whom many Chicoans know from his nine-year stint managing the supplement department at S&S Produce and Natural Foods and his three years doing the same at Chico Natural Foods—is in partnership at The Vitamin Fox with licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist Bill Nichols, whose résumé includes time working alongside veteran practitioner of Oriental medicine Michael Turk, the director of the East/West Health Center. In addition to his three days a week at The Vitamin Fox, Nichols also practices two days at American Chi Center for Health on Rio Lindo Avenue.

“Acupuncture can be corrective, if you’ve already got a problem that’s manifest,” said Fox, speaking on behalf of Nichols, who was busy going between his two practices fulfilling the rush of holiday-season appointments. “For instance, for a severe pain syndrome you might need to see Bill once a week for three to six months or a year—it depends on your age. A younger, robust person would probably be quicker.”

But acupuncture, said Fox, is also excellent preventative medicine.

“Acupuncture is very good for anybody at any point in time,” Fox said. “It allows your body—all your organs—to work more efficiently. … This is the reason why [NBA star] Kobe Bryant has acupuncture three times a week—because it allows him to jump higher, run faster and play a meaner game. He’s not sickly. Acupuncture improves your overall general health.”

Acupuncture and Herbs (Adam Moes), 689 E. 18th St., 828-2589. (phasing out insurance, but look for Moes’ new low-cost “community-based” clinic in January, 2010, with sliding scale from $15-40/hour)

The Vitamin Fox (Perry Fox and Bill Nichols), 1224 Mangrove Ave., 345-9685. (“low-cost,” cash pay; no insurance. Nichols’ other office, American Chi, however, accepts insurance—call 342-2895 for more info)