Portland has long led the country in the mainstreaming of natural medicine, partly because we are a mecca for those learning to practice it. The city is home to three nationally revered institutions: the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM), the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, and the University of Western States (which graduates chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, and nutritionists). Our leading medical research center, Oregon Health & Science University, has also fully embraced the trend, routinely collaborating with all three schools on studies that have proven everything from fish oil’s ability to quell depression in people with MS to the positive effects of yoga for seniors. 

“Portland is unique, especially from a research perspective,” says Heather Zwickey, dean of research at NCNM and director of the college’s Helfgott Research Institute. “We all collaborate and get along—that doesn’t happen anywhere else.” 

With 40 percent of American adults using some form of natural medicine—and a naturopath or acupuncturist seemingly on every Rose City block—we thought it was high time to provide a local primer.

  

CHINESE MEDICINE

Chinese medicine may have originated in centuries-old ancient texts like the Nei-Jing and the Shang Han Lun, but the Americans who now benefit from its two-millennia history should give thanks to President Richard Nixon. During a preparatory trip to China advancing the president’s famed breakthrough visit of 1972, a press-corps reporter named James Reston suddenly felt a stabbing pain: appendicitis. His surgery at Beijing’s Anti-Imperialist Hospital went smoothly, but for the severe abdominal pains that followed, which the Chinese treated with acupuncture. Reston praised the ancient technique in the New York Times, and American doctors took notice. Some even traveled to China to experience acupuncture for themselves. Clinical trials followed and, soon after, accupunture schools. 

Most Chinese medicine schools today teach “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (TCM), the more standardized version popularized by Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s. TCM practitioners use acupuncture, herbs, dietary therapy, moxibustion (burning herbs near certain points on the body), cupping (using heat and a glass cup to create a suction on the skin), and other practices to restore the qi (or “life force”) of the body. Older, more nuanced variations, known as “Classical Chinese Medicine,” are enjoying a renaissance as well at schools like Portland’s National College of Natural Medicine.  

 

To the Point 
Puncturing skepticism about acupuncture

Naysayers have long criticized accupuncture studies for being inconclusive. But last October, an overview published in Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that acupuncture outperformed over-the-counter pain relievers and other standard meds for people suffering osteoarthritis, migraines, and chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the five-year effort scrutinized raw data from 29 studies involving 18,000 patients and offered what the New York Times called “firm evidence supporting acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain.” 

  

PROFILES IN TREATMENT: ARNAUD VERSLUYS 

After surviving chemo for stage-3 breast cancer, Tracy J. Prince, 47, developed a persistent hacking cough—very inconvenient for someone who sings in three choirs. Her general practitioner diagnosed her with adult asthma and put her on Albuterol and then a steroid called Advair. But the cough only grew worse. To Prince, alternative medicine was “New Age crap,” but after four years of coughing and, eventually, walking pneumonia and a cracked rib, she gave it a try. “I was desperate,” she says. Her chiropractor referred her to acupuncturist Arnaud Versluys. 

 Belgian by birth and trained in China, Versluys specializes in what he calls “the heavy stuff”: autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s disease, lupus, and puzzling maladies like chronic fatigue syndrome and interstitial cystitis. “If you come to me with lower-back pain,” Versluys says, “I’ll probably refer you to someone else.”

At her first exam, Versluys asked Prince a series of questions about her cough, the cancer, and her general health, and took her pulse. Based on this information, he created a custom tea from a dozen herbs including cinnamon, licorice, and peony for her coughs. Mixed from herb granules, the formula was stirred into a solution Prince recalls as bitter and grainy. Each week, Versluys tweaked it, telling her not to expect instant results. 

“After about three months, there was a profound difference,” says Prince, who was so impressed, she asked Versluys if he could help her with her arthritis, too. He treated her with additional herbs and a few acupuncture sessions. Now even her husband, once equally skeptical of alternative medicine, sees Versluys for his sciatica. 

Unlike most acupuncturists, Versluys rarely uses needles. In addition to seeing patients, he also runs the Institute of Classics in East Asian Medicine, a school that provides licensed acupuncturists with continuing education in Classical Chinese Medicine. The institute has branches in Zurich, London, Frankfurt, Melbourne, Chicago, San Diego, and now Portland, so Versluys is frequently on the go. But he still sees patients two days a week at Jade Acupuncture (jadeacupuncturepdx.com).