In August 2011, I received an e-mail from a distressed mother. Her 25-year-old son was serving in Afghanistan, suffering severe migraine headaches, anxiety, and depression.
Six months later, when Jason (not his real name) was discharged, I started a treatment program that included acupuncture, herbal medicines, and systemic detoxification cleanses.
Jason started his service in Afghanistan in November 2008. His main job was to do route clearance. He was to find roadside bombs called improvised explosive devices (IED) and detonate them. He operated a Husky vehicle equipped with special visual and mine detonating devices. During his time on duty, on many occasions he was within 50 meters from the IEDs at the time of the explosion, and his vehicle would be shaken violently from the impact. Three times, his vehicle was directly over the bomb, which caused a more violent percussion to his vehicle. These repeated explosions caused Jason to suffer repeated concussions, which resulted in excruciating migraine headaches.
He was first seen at the East West Clinic in March 2012. He was an overweight 26-year-old, weighing 285 pounds and standing 6 feet 2 inches tall. He described his symptoms as severe pain starting at the center of the cranium and radiating across his head and shoulders. This pain was mostly at levels 8 to 10, and was experienced every day and often incapacitating to the point that he would isolate himself from family and friends. He had been having this pain since he had come back from Afghanistan 6 months earlier. The pain radiated from the top of the cranium to the upper and lower trapezius and perispinal muscles and ligaments in the cervical region.
He was unable to drive himself to the clinic because of panic episodes. Whenever he saw something on the roadside that reminded him of a roadside bomb (it could be a garbage bin), he would come to a sudden stop and panic would ensue.
His grandfather drove him to the clinic and offered this information to help me with my diagnosis and treatment: "Before Jason left for the military, he was of normal weight for 6 feet 2 inches height, he was social and fun to be with and was comfortable with girlfriend relationships. When he came back, he hated everybody, he was very irritable, one never knew from moment to moment how he would react and often reacted explosively with anger. He was suicidal, kept to himself and mostly stayed in a darkened room not wishing any social encounters." Jason never attempted suicide but talked about it.
Before he came to our clinic, he had spent 6 months using prescription medications from the Veterans Health Administration clinic, which did not help his symptoms. He took 20 different pills during the day and 15 different ones at bedtime. "The pills even made my symptoms worse."
My diagnosis was severe posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with associated symptoms of migraine headaches, anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, panic episodes, antisocial behavior, weight gain, and agoraphobia. In the assessment made according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, I diagnosed chi and yang deficiency in the kidney and pericardium channels and excess yang of the heart and liver channels.
The repeated concussions caused the severe daily migraine episodes. He was also exposed daily to toxic fumes and chemicals while in the service, which in turn suppressed his immune system, allowing for candida (yeast) overgrowth.
His primary pattern of disharmony as determined by his symptoms, and his pulse and tongue diagnosis assessed from the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, was extreme yin deficiency syndrome often alternating with the opposite pattern of chi and yang deficiency. I carefully balanced him each visit, according to the presenting pattern. I also put him on the systemic candida cleanse and diet change, which I will explain in more detail below.
I used the following points for the yin deficiency syndrome: LI 4, Heart 7, Liver 2 , Kidney 3, Stomach 36.
Each visit required Ashi points in the neck, upper back, and cranial areas along with standard points such as Bai Hui, GB 20 and 21, Du 8, 9, 10, UB 9, 10, 11 to 17.
For stress management, I used Shen Men and Yin Tang, Heart 7 and Pericardium 6.
For meridian balance, I used the usual points based on the current pattern of disharmony and from time to time Dr. Richard Tan's "12 magic points."
The herbal medicines that helped with his anxiety and depression included Tian Wan Bu Xin Dan, Xue Fu Yu Tang Wan, and Gui Pi Wan. I used one or the other depending on the pattern exhibited at the time.
Added to the above repertoire were the use of the 5 auricular points developed by Col. Richard Niemtzow, MD, PhD, called the Battlefield Points. He first introduced these five auricular acupuncture points in 2001 while serving with combat troops in Afghanistan. He was searching for a way to relieve pain that did not compromise a soldier's ability to carry out his or her mission. Later he served as consultant for complementary and alternative medicine for the surgeon general, where he continued to carry out research on the five combat points. This technique was described by John Amaro, LAc, DC, in the article "Battlefield Acupuncture for the Clinical Practitioner," in Acupuncture Today. This treatment used small intradermal needles in the ear to block pain. Studies indicated that 80% of the pain was relieved within less than 5 minutes, and such relief lasted for hours or several days. For many soldiers, the pain did not return.
The points are Omega 2, Shen Men, Wonderful Point Zero, Thalamus, and Cingulate Gyrus.
The other part of the regimen for Jason included the candida detoxification program and the candida diet based on the program as explained in my book Conquering Yeast Infections: Chronic Illness and Candida Connection.
For the initial candida cleanse I used the combination of Caproyl (liquid caprylic acid) as antifungal, liquid bentonite (an adsorbent to prevent die-off and aid in detoxification), psyllium powder, and a probiotic. The diet was basically free of yeast, alcohol, sugar, and dairy products. He remained on this program for 3 months, which significantly facilitated his progress. I believe that his recovery would not have been as smooth and as fast without the addition of this program. He also lost approximately 40 pounds.
Jason was extremely pleased with the positive effects that the battlefield points had on his pain. These results also reduced the general symptoms of PTSD for days. I would send him home with these auricular points, using metal ear tacks rather than round metal "seeds," because he felt more relief with the tacks.
I saw him once a week for 6 months. Thereafter, he was well enough to taper his acupuncture treatments to every other week for another 4 months. Currently he needs acupuncture treatments every month and as needed in between. Often he can stay without treatments for 6 weeks with the battlefield points in place.
In his current condition, the headaches are less intense and less frequent and can be managed with Aleve or Tylenol. He is still hesitant to try to drive on the freeways but manages to drive short distances near his residence. His grandfather stated that even with just the first treatment, he noticed a different Jason while driving home from that first visit: "He was more like his old self, was cheerful and chatty."
At this point, he is not taking any prescription medicines, and he is working on being able to drive the freeways again by overcoming his panic episodes. He is also apprenticing with a construction firm.
Amaro J. Battlefield acupuncture for the clinical practitioner. Acupuncture Today. April 2009;10(4).
Cho ZH, Wong EK, Fallon J. Neuro-Acupuncture. Vol. 1. Basic Neuroscience. Los Angeles: Q-puncture Inc.; 2001.
Lahoz C. Conquering Yeast Infections: Chronic Illness and the Candida Connection. St. Paul, MN: East West Clinic Publications; 2010.
Oleson T. Auriculotherapy Manual: Chinese and Western Systems of Ear Acupuncture. Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2003:165.
Colet Lahoz, RN, MS, LAc, founder of the East West Acupuncture Clinic, located in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, is a pioneer in the practice of holistic medicine in the US. Ms. Lahoz completed her master's degree in nursing at the University of Minnesota. She then pursued the study of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been in private practice since 1984. Her career as a registered nurse included positions in critical care and trauma, pioneering the development of emergency and trauma courses for nurses. She was faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. She also held the position as director of nursing education at St. Paul Children's Hospital.
The Townsend Letter cited her in its May 2005 issue as one of the top practitioners who are cutting-edge sources of information on alternative medicine. She is author of the book Conquering Yeast Infections: Chronic Illness and the Candida Connection. The book presents diagnosis and treatment protocols for candidiasis, a condition that leads to many chronic illnesses, autoimmune diseases, and degenerative nervous system conditions. Her research on the successful treatment of MSA, a form of Parkinson's disease, has been published and has since drawn patients from other countries and other states to her clinic. She has recently done seminars on alternative therapies for PTSD.