This article was written at the end of my stay one week sojourn in Shenzhen, the bustling border city near Hong Kong. I was invited to visit the busiest aesthetic/cosmetic private hospital here to learn about the latest aesthetic/cosmetic surgery techniques. The hospital serves not only the southern provinces of mainland China, but also clients from Hong Kong and other parts of Asia. It has 10 plastic surgeons, in addition to general surgeons, aesthetic dental surgeons, hair transplant surgeons, and beauty and slimming therapists as well. In is a one-stop beauty, cosmetic and slimming hospital. As anti-aging /rejuvenation medicine, which is another area of my interest, goes hand-in-hand with aesthetics (beauty) and slimming ( remember, maintaining a healthy weight is a very important requirement of health and rejuvenation, second only to exercise ), meeting one of the most famous plastic surgeons in China is indeed an honour. He is also the inventor of several cosmetic products and slimming gadgets. To my delight, I discovered that he is also taking one of the anti-aging supplements that I take!

Aesthetic/Cosmetic surgery is so popular in China, now that the country is experiencing unprecendented growth and the people suddenly find that they can afford expensive cosmetic surgey and other aesthetic therapies to make themselves look good. The most popular operations are for double eyelids, nose repair, breast enhancement and liposuction. Most of these operations are done on an a walk-in basis, that is, no prior appointment is necessary. Clients walk in, consult the doctors, and usually get their desired surgery done immediately. Most of the operations are done under local anaesthesia, and the patients go home soon after completion. Only those that have breast implants or multiple corrections stay in overnight. Surgery time is also cut short by having up to four plastic surgeons working simultaneously on one patient, especially if multiple repairs are required.


While here, I took the opportunity to look for Qi-related healing methods to report in this column. I found a centre teaching Shaolin Kungfu, and another offering traditional Chinese massage therapy and cupping near my hotel. Further away is a physician practising acupuncture and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). It is appropriate that I talk about acupuncture this time.

Acupuncture was perhaps the most controversial of traditional Chinese treatment methods, as far as modern science / modern medicine were concerned. It is not difficult to accept that traditional Chinese herbs can have healing effects, since modern medicine also is based on healing plants and healthy foods. Many other traditional and indigenous healing methods also use healing herbs which have been tried and tested over the ages. But acupuncture involves poking needles into energy points and energy meridians which do not make sense to modern science. So for a long time the accepted explanation was that it must have been the placebo effect – if you believe and expect it to work, it will work on a certain percentage of people, just as it was discovered in one study that about 40% of impotent Chinese men improved when given dud Viagra pills. Fortunately, some researches proved that chemical-transmitters called endorphins are released when the needles are placed at the right points, thus proving scientifically for the first time that acupuncture really works. Decades and hundreds of other scientific studies later, acupuncture is now more respected by the scientific community ( see “Acupuncture Has Won Medical Acceptance”, Fit For Life, 8 May 2005 ).

Brian Carter, a Western acupuncturist, gives a simple analogy : ” Your brain is a computer, and the acupuncture points are the keyboard; you do the right points, and that tells the brain how to change the configuration of the mind and body”. The master acupuncturist not only knows when and which keys to play, but also how soft and how hard to play to create a melody.
Modern sciencific research has established that acupuncture works via the immune and nervous systems, affecting neurons, electrolytes, neuro-transmitters, and neuropeptides. Using PET scans, it has been possible to map the brain loci affected by stimulating specific acupuncture points. But even with this new information, the traditional system of acupoints and channels still give the clearest picture of how acupuncture works. The integration of the biomedical view and the traditional views, has however, given us unprecendented understanding of the subject.

Endorphins, neurons and immune cells are not the only reasons why acupuncture works. Acupuncture also unblocks “stagnant” Qi ( healing life-force ), and allows it to flow freely, thus nourishing the target organs to function well or heal. Since science has yet to fully grasp the understanding of this life-force phenomenon, we will have to wait for this aspect to be accepted. However, with so much interest now in the field of bioelectric medicine ( see “Bioelectric Healing”, Fit For Life, 24 April 2005 ), the waiting should not be long.

Acupuncture has been used to relieve aches and pains, and heal a whole gamut of ailments from indigestion to infertility. It is especially effective for nausea and vomiting, pain, tennis elbow, menstrual cramps, fibromyalgia, post-stroke and spinal cord injury, labor pain, migraine, alcoholism, and as part of a quit-smoking program It also has variations in the form of moxibustion ( heating the acupoints , often with specific herbal sticks ) ; acupressure, which is applying pressure at the acupoints, often done as part of a traditional massage therapy; electro-acupuncture, which is applying a small electrical current to the acupoints ( this method is often deliberately miscoinned as “laser acupuncture” by therapists to make it sound more sophisticated ); magneto-acupuncture, which is using magnetism to stimulate the acupoints; acu-cupping, which is applying the cupping method at acupoints; and even acu-mesotherapy, which is injecting vitamins and anti-aging supplements ( eg. Collagen, placenta extracts, organ cell extracts, etc. ) at the acupoints, especially on the face, for faster rejuvenation.

Acupuncture and its variants work very well with herbs and Qigong, as the healthy flow of Qi is somehow involved in all these healing methods.


Cupping is an ancient Chinese healing method using a cup which is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced ( traditionally by the cooling of the heated air inside, and now usually by suctioning out the air), so that the skin and tissues are drawn into it. Blood-letting usually completes the treatment when several nicks are made on the congested area after the cup is removed. A gliding-cupping-massage technique is practised by some practitioners who apply a lubricant over the skin and then slide the cup over the prescribed area or meridian path while maintaining the suction. This gliding method is similar to the tuina (tu-na) massage technique where the skin along the back is rapidly pinched in sequence.

In the Arab/Muslim healing tradition, cupping is an established practice, as it was also practised by the Prophet ( peace be upon him ). It is called “Al-Hijamah” ( literally “sucking” ). Even presently, many practitioners still use the traditional bull’s horns instead of glass cups.

A close friend of mine is the local pioneer of modern ” Innovative Aku-Bekam”, which is the Malay equivalent of acu-cupping. She has managed to turn the traditional practice into a scientifically-sound procedure by incorporating proper antisepsis measures and using sterile modern instruments.

For all you coffee-lovers, cupping is also the term used by coffee experts to measure the flavor profile and rate a given coffee variety and crop.

Acu-mesotherapy is gaining popularity in tandem with the spread of mesotherapy ( injection of small amounts of medicines or supplements into the superficial layers of the skin ) in the Western world. The quest for health, youth and beauty has no bounds, and like in many other fields, we are seeing the marriage of advanced modern science with traditional practices to achieve the desired results even faster than is possible otherwise.


One very useful application of acupuncture is that it is a very effective method to stop smoking. Using modern electro-acupuncture instruments, the method is very pleasant and acceptable to all. If done as part of a proper quit-smoking program ( involving counselling, motivation, and adequate follow-up), the results are impressive. Some centres claim results which exceed other methods currently available. It is also affordable. This method is now available in Malaysia, which is timely since the government is cracking its head trying to find an effective solution to the smoking problem, and has had to re-look at its “Tak Nak” anti-smoking campaign because of poor results. Now we have another armament in the fight against smoking.

It is ironical that I am describing about a Chinese method to quit smoking from a city in China where over 75% of adult males smoke. There are very few places where smoking is strictly prohibited. The doctors themselves smoke within the hospital premises. Hotels and public places are all smoking areas. The internet café from where I am writing this article is choking full of cigarette smoke as the mostly young patrons puff incessantly while chatting or surfing on the net, playing net games, or watching movies on the computer screens. At night when the place is packed, it is intolerable for a non-smoker like me.

About 50% of the women here, especially the younger ones, also smoke, following the trend in all developing countries. In Malaysia, over 50% of adult males smoke, with the women ( especially the yuppee generation ) catching up fast from the current 5% or so. In UK it is about 30% for men and 25% for women, with thl latter expected to overtake the men soon. However, while the older people are becoming more health-conscious and are quitting smoking, a recent report from UK showed that teenagers ( both male and females ) are increasingly turning to cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, sex and violence.


While the therapeutic use of acupuncture for pain relief is common, it is extemely difficult to achieve maximal reduction of all uncomfortable sensations ( pain, pressure, heat, stretching ) necessary to allow a major surgery to proceed. For minor surgeries, often a few needles on the ear will suffice. However, it is possible to achieve satisfactory anaesthesia with acupuncture, even for major surgeries. Many of you may have watched documentaries of the major surgical operations being performed in China under the anaesthetic effects of acupuncture done by experts.

The anaesthesia attained through acupuncture can also be achieved by hypnosis, and I have also watched documentaries of major surgeries being performed while the patients were only under hypnosis, and no drugs absolutely. Acupuncture can certainly be combined with hypnosis for various treatments for a synergistic effect. There is so much we need to understand about the Mind-Body-Qi connection.


Dr Amir Farid Isahak
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