Rowena Logie’s list of allergies is a long one, or at least it used to be. For the first time since she was a child, the Newcastle University student can go wherever she likes, without fear of puffy eyes, a runny nose and wheezing.

Instead of trying to stay away from animal fur, house mites, feathers, hay, rape fields and timothy grass, to name just a few of her allergies, Rowena is looking ahead to a different future, one which might involve a house near the country and a pet cat.

“I used to go and visit friends when I was growing up, but I could only stay for a short while because they had dogs,” says Rowena, 25.

“I was taking a lot of medication, but then about a year ago I started getting asthma attacks in addition to my other symptoms. That’s when I decided I really needed to try and do something about my allergies.”

Rowena’s symptoms were even more disruptive because her family in Perthshire, live on a farm. “Normally I’d be uncomfortable by the third day of my visit and put up with it or leave, but last time I stayed for three weeks.”

Needless to say Rowena is thrilled, not least because she has more freedom – everything from stroking her parents cats, Orca and Millie, to going for a walk in the countryside with friends. She has five sessions of acupuncture to thank for the change.

Acupuncture, a form of oriental medicine which has been around for nearly 3,000 years, is known to have the ability to affect all parts of the immune system, including those involved in allergic reactions.

In Britain the study of traditional acupuncture began in the 1950’s but it wasn’t until the 1970s that is really began to flourish and now there are 2,400 qualified acupuncturists registered with The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC).

Traditional Chinese philosophy states that  our health is dependent on the body’s motivating energy – known as Qi – moving in a smooth  and balance way through a series of meridians or channels beneath the skin.

For many reasons Qi may become unbalanced and lead to illness. By inserting very fine needles into the channels of energy or Qi, an acupuncturist can stimulate the body’s own healing response and help restore its natural balance. Feras Jerjis, the therapist who treated Rowena, initially assesses how energy is flowing through the body.

By noting the pulses on both wrists and the structure, colour and coating on the tongue, Feras is able to make a judgment about a person’s state of health.

“Traditional acupuncture takes on an holistic approach, treating the whole person to regain the balance between the physical, mental and emotional aspects of the individual,” he explains.

“The exact pattern and degree of disharmony is unique to each individual. Traditional acupuncture will treat it as such, with a personalised treatment plan, once a full diagnosis has been made.”

Feras, who studied acupuncture for three years and has treated most ailments, from cancer to a cold, says allergies can wreak havoc in people’s lives but acupuncture can help.

“Obviously ther are many different types of allergies and a scale of allergic reactions, from the life-threatening anaphylactic shock, to a skin reaction of inflammation of the nose and eyes, for example.

“The way acupuncture works is to strengthen the whole immune system, so that it can cope better with the allergy.”

With Rowena, Feras used needles at several points on the arms and legs. They are not painful, the needle itself resembling a ‘flick’ and nothing more. Afterwards she was able to rest in the treatment room fo up to an hour.

The increase in the number of people who are turning to complementary therapies  such as acupuncture doesn’t surprise Feras, especially with allergies which have increased fourfold in 20 years.

Common allergic disorders include asthma – affecting one in five children – and eczema, from which an estimated six million people suffer. But acupuncture can also be used to treat allergies to wasp stings, some medication and a range of foods.

“Acupuncture can be used alongside conventional medicine in the treatment of both acute and chronic disease,” says Feras. However it is important to take care to find a therapist who is qualified and registered with a professional body.

For more than 35 years, Audrey Telfer battled to overcome excruciating back pain. Conventional pills had failed her and, at the age of 67, the former finance manager yearned to enjoy her retirement without feeling drained of energy and worn down by constant pain.

She tried a course of physiotherapy which helped but when therapist Karen Dearden, of the Newcastle Sports injury Clinic, suggested acupuncture, the ancient Chinese treatment, she was more than a little sceptical.

But after a couple of 45 minute sessions, combined with 12 combinations of different herbs in powder form, she couldn’t believe the difference.

“The pain was really getting me down. I had tried painkillers but they didn’t work and I found I didn’t have the energy to do very much,” she said.

“But after a few treatments, people were telling me I looked so much better. It was a real tonic. Obviously I’m not cured – as well as back pain, I have asthma and arthritis – but the Chinese medicine has been a real tonic. It’s all about rebalancing the body’”

Acupuncturist Feras Jerjis believes people should take control of their own health and often recommends exercises that people can do in between sessions.

Acupuncture involves inserting fine metal needles in to any of 360 specially designated points on the body. It is used to relieve pain and treat all kinds of ailments by manipulating the body’s energy flow, called ‘chi’, allowing the body to balance and heal itself. Chi travels through the meridians in the body and where it becomes blocked or stagnant, disease or ill health can exist.

An acupuncturist will pinpoint a weakness in your chain of energy and treat it according to your symptoms. Chi enables the body to function and flows through invisible meridians, each of which is named after and related to an organ, including lungs, kidney, stomach, spleen or kidney. Meridians run through many parts of the body  and every point along a specific meridian will be disaffected by disharmony at other points. For example, the teeth are part of the stomach meridian. You should feel a tingling sensation when the needle penetrates the skin. If you feel nothing, it is unlikely the correct acupuncture point has been needled.

Mr Jerjis said: ”Insertion of the needles is painless and during the 20 to 30 minutes that the needles are in. people frequently experience a deep level of relaxation and can often fall asleep.”

The clinic is one of the very few centres in the North East where all five branches of traditional Chinese Medicine  (TCM) are practices with equal emphasis.

They include Tui Na Massage (Tweeno)  which involves deep tissue massage that concentrated on pressure points and joint mobilisation. Nick Hudis, the clinic’s Tui Na therapist said: “People may at first be wary of deep massage which at times can be painful but as chronic aches and pains drop away they are soon hooked.”

Diet therapy is one of the main foundations of traditional `Chinese Medicine, and based on the principal that poor eating habits and food that is too rich hampers digestion and causes ill health.

Qigong, pronounced Chee gung, is also practised at the clinic. It teaches slow gentle movements and as well as maintaining suppleness and calming the mind it is said to reduce high blood pressure, boost the immune system and regulate the metabolism. In China Qigong is popular among cancer patients.

There are cynics who think you’d do as much good sticking bananas in your ears. Johanna Caprelian used to be one of them. When acupuncture was first suggested, she has a vision of Hellraiser and found the whole thing vaguely ludicrous. But the problem was that her shoulder was very stiff and her GP and physio were not being much help. “So in the end I said yes’” says Johanna. While her arm did improve, there was an unexpected bonus that has left Johanna signed up to acupuncture for probably the rest of her life.

“I’m a terrible insomniac and have been all my life. It’s no fun. Usually I’d get about three hours sleep a night, sometimes four, but it was always sporadic with lots of long waking spells.

“Sometimes I’d get so tires I could cry because there was nothing I could do about it. And about once a month I became do physically exhausted that I had to try something more drastic to knock myself out of a whole weekend just to give my body a rest,.”

As a result of her treatment, Johanna, 47, says her life quality has improved because she has even more energy than usual and feels generally more alert.

Which is saying a lot.

“I work between 14 and 16 hours a day,” she says, matter-of-factly.

The director of the Central Employment agency in Newcastle, she employs 15 staff and has a very hectic schedule to contend with a, and she and her husband run the GoldStar gym, a body building club in Heaton.

“I’m up very early – its quite good in some ways because I’ve got all my jobs done in the house while most people are still sleeping- and I’m in the office by about 7pm.

“I go home, and then go to the gym every evening which we run. I do a workout two or three times a week, and I help out in the reception. I haven’t got children but I’ve got a husband who needs feeding and all the rest of it.

“I love my work here – though it’s pure pressure and I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who works in recruitment sales.”

Her introduction to acupuncture came very much as a last resort.

Born in London, there’s a lot of Cockney in Johanna’s voice though the 27 years she’s spent in Newcastle are not without their trace.

To say she’s lively is something of an understatement and though she clearly takes her work very seriously and can easily slip into the no-nonsense businesswoman role, she’s also the sort of person who can always see the funny side.

A year and a half ago she fell on the stairs at the gym.

“I’ve heard the expression having the wind taken out of you, but in all honesty I’d never experienced it until then. My arm and shoulder took the impact and it didn’t half hurt. But I got up and brushed myself down and never gave it another thought.”

There were no broken bones but when she got into her car to drive to work she was shaking like a leaf.” And I had a tiny little bruise on the elbow,” she recalls.

Not worth making a whole lot of fuss about. Or so she believed.

“A couple of weeks later, I thought: this is sore. But I’m quite a tough old thing and didn’t think of seeing a doctor for another month.” When she did go, he was rather dismissive.

She returned, two months later, when her arm was so stiff it was interfering with her day to day life, making even taking a shower awkward. The GP suggested and x-ray which came back clear.

But the arm got stiffer and stiffer , and on her next visit physio was recommended. The only problem was there was a waiting list of about six months.

“I thought I could be in the grave before that happened. And that’s how I ended up at the Sports Injury Clinic,” says Johanna.

“It wasn’t quite a sports injury but I did it in the gym,” she jokes. “But it wouldn’t be funny for some people. I don’t want to sound conceited, but it’s a good job I could pay for it. The private physio cost me £22 a go and I was having two sessions a week. Not everyone could afford that.”

There was some improvement but, after four months, her physiotherapist thought they were hitting a bit of a wall, and suggested Johanna go back to her GP.

“He said I had a frozen shoulder. He suggested physio,” she says.

She had another two months of treatment and was disheartened to find she was still unable to train at the gym and do her usual things.

Nearly a year had passed, and her GP agreed to send her to a specialist at the Freeman Hospital though the appointment would take six months to arrange.

Back at the Sports Injury Clinic, Johanna’s physio didn’t know what to do either. When she suggested acupuncture, Johanna wondered what she had left to lose.

“I was expecting this Kung-Fu looking artist but he, Feras Jerjis, was quite a different character altogether. I’d always thought acupuncture a very woolly kind of area, and when he stuck needles in my ankles and legs I wondered how on earth they were going to help with my shoulder but I let him get on with it anyway.

“I didn’t feel a thing. They’re very long and thin and he sort of thrusts them in quickly and then they vibrate. I had a couple of sessions with him and I thought something actually was happening.
“The bruising was coming out – he also used a small wooden hammer on my arm, a bit like the thing you use to make a steak more tender – and you could literally see the blood coming to the surface.

“If you felt the area it was solid, like a huge blood clot, and that’s what was breaking down.”

Johanna is particularly pleased about the way the acupuncture helped her insomnia.

She discussed it with Feras when he asked why she worked such long hours. He said he could maybe do something to help.

“I thought, how ridiculous,” she admits. “But then I let him try. He started sticking needles in different places in my body and in my ears. You feel different sensations in different parts of your body, like water moving down through it. You can hear the ones in your ears vibrating. It’s really weird.

“But since he started treating me I’m getting at least four hours sleep straight through, which is a huge improvement for me. The first time it happened I felt really heavy, like I’d overdosed on sleep, but now it feels great. I don’t know if it’s psychological or what but I don’t care. I’m going to keep going back, even if it’s just once a month for as long as it’s helpful.”

Eventually, Johanna’s appointment came through at the Freeman and the physiotherapist she saw there urged her to keep up the acupuncture.

“He’d actually worked quite a bit with Feras,” Johanna says. “And between them they’ve done a lot of good now. I have a lot more movement in my arm, but because of the acupuncture the great thing is I can sleep so much better. I never thought I’d be the one to say that.”

Two prospective surveys conducted among different groups of professionals in the UK, including doctors, physiotherapists and practitioners primarily trained in acupuncture, monitored adverse events to acupuncture over a defined period of time. A total of 652 acupuncturists reported 6733 adverse reactions in 66,229 patients, an adverse event rate of 10.2%. The most common events were tiredness (3%) bleeding or bruising (3%), aggravation of symptoms (2%) and pain at the needling site (1%). There were no serious adverse events. A total of 86 (0.1%) of the treatments was associated with an event that the practitioner judged to be significant though without persistent consequences for the patient’s health. The author concludes that the risks associated with acupuncture can be classified as negligible and that acupuncture is a very safe treatment in the hands of competent practitioners.

(The safety of acupuncture – evidence from the UK. Acupunct Med. 2006 Dec;24 Suppl:S53-57)

A randomised prospective controlled clinical study examined the effect of luteal-phase acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro fertilisation/intracytoplasmic sperm injection. 116 patients receiving acupuncture according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine were compared with a group of 109 receiving placebo acupuncture. In both groups, acupuncture was carried out immediately after embryo transfer. The TCM acupuncture group received needling at Guanyuan REN-4, Qihai REN-6, Guilai ST-29, Neiguan P-6, Diji SP-8 and Xuehai SP-10 with ear seeds placed at auricular points Shenmen, Zigong, Neifenmi and Pizhixia (left in place for two days and pressed twice daily for 10 minutes). The placebo group received acupuncture designed not to influence fertility (Sidu SJ-9, Xiaoluo SJ-12, Fengshi GB-31, Zhongdu GB-32, Yanglingquan GB-34; ear seeds at Shangzhi, Fengsi, Shisheng, Jian). Three days after embryo transfer, all patients received a second acupuncture treatment. For the placebo group, needling was the same as previously, while the TCM acupuncture group were needled at Hegu L.I.-4, Sanyinjiao SP-6, Zusanli ST-36, Taixi KID-3 and Taichong LIV-3. Both groups had ear seeds placed on the other ear at the same points as previously (again pressed twice daily for two days). Clinical pregnancy rate and ongoing pregnancy rate (33.6% and 28.4% in the TCM acupuncture group were significantly higher than in the placebo acupuncture group (15.6% and 13.8%).

(Effect of acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection: a randomized, prospective, controlled clinical study. Fertil Steril. 2006 May;85(5):1347-51)

A pragmatic randomised study has evaluated the clinical and economic effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of women with dysmenorrhoea. 201 patients were allocated to receive either up to 15 acupuncture sessions over three months or no acupuncture. Both groups additionally received usual medical care. Outcome measures of pain intensity and quality of life were recorded at baseline and after three months. After three months, patients in the acupuncture group were found to have less pain than controls. A cost-effectiveness calculation was performed, based on calculating quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). This analysis showed that although acupuncture treatment incurred additional costs when compared with usual care, the improvement to patient’s quality of life means it can be regarded as cost-effective when compared with international benchmarks.

(Pragmatic randomised study evaluating clinical and economic effectiveness of acupuncture treatment in patients with dysmenorrhoea. Focus Altern Complement Ther. 2006;11(5):53)

Acupuncture is associated with a significant decrease in the severity, but not the frequency, of postmenopausal hot flushes. In a randomised, placebo-controlled pilot study, 29 postmenopausal women averaging at least seven moderate to severe hot flushes per 24 hours, were randomised to receive seven weeks (nine treatment sessions) of either active acupuncture (standardised, individually-tailored point prescriptions) or placebo acupuncture (non-penetrating placebo needles at sham acupuncture points). Those receiving active treatment had a significantly greater reduction in hot flush severity than those receiving placebo. There was no significant difference in the reduction of hot flush frequency between the active and placebo groups, however both groups experienced significantly fewer episodes of flushing.

(Acupuncture for postmenopausal hot flushes. Maturitas. 2007 Apr 20;56(4):383-95)

Acupuncture significantly reduces duration of labour and reduces the need for augmentation of labour with contraction-stimulating drugs. A study randomised 100 women with spontaneous rupture of membranes at term to either acupuncture or no acupuncture. Treatment was individualised on the basis of traditional Chinese medical diagnosis and used three points per patient from a pool of nine possible choices. Treatment principles applied were to increase energy, soften the cervix and open the Conception vessel. Although time from membrane rupture to delivery did not differ significantly between the groups, length of active labour was significantly reduced in the acupuncture group by a mean difference of 1.7 hours. In addition, significantly fewer patients in the acupuncture group required oxytocin (used to stimulate contractions) for longer than two hours. Medical induction of labour was eventually necessary in 15 acupuncture patients and 20 controls. When induction was carried out, women assigned to acupuncture completed the active phase of labour in half the time compared to controls, a statistically significant difference. (Acupuncture administered after spontaneous rupture of membranes at term significantly reduces the length of birth and use of oxytocin.

(A randomized controlled trial. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2006;85(11):1348-53)

Fifty-six primigravid women at 39 weeks or greater with a singleton gestation and Bishop score (a system for predicting whether induction of labour will be required) of less than seven were randomised to usual medical care or usual care plus three acupuncture treatments. Each treatment consisted of eight needles applied bilaterally to Hegu L.I.-4, Sanyinjiao SP-6, Shangliao BL-31 and Ciliao BL-32. Mean time from randomisation to delivery occurred 21 hours sooner in the acupuncture group, but this difference did not reach statistical significance. Compared with controls, women in the acupuncture group tended to be more likely to labour spontaneously and less likely to deliver by Caesarean section.

(A randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for initiation of labor in nulliparous women. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2006 Aug;19(8):465-70).

A meta-analysis has evaluated the effects of acupuncture on pain and function in patients with chronic knee pain for pain. Combining data from five randomised controlled studies judged to have high validity (1334 patients), acupuncture was found to be superior to sham acupuncture for both pain and function. The differences were still significant at long-term follow-up.

(Acupuncture treatment for chronic knee pain: a systematic review. Rheumatology. 2007 46(3):384-390)