Bio-Electric Principles, Evaluation And Treatment
By Darren Starwynn, LAc
Desert Heart Press
Reviewed By Allen McDaniels, MD
Ever since my basic training in medical acupuncture 2 decades ago, the temptress of Western science has looked over my shoulder as I learned and applied my craft. At times, she has irritated me, then consoled me; but always, she has jogged me to think and reason as a reductionist – to integrate my learning and practice into the laws of physics and chemistry. Sometimes I am successful: recalling the cascade of neurotransmitter activated by needles and electricity. Other times, I fail: how do those 7 Internal and 7 External Dragons work, anyway? Often, I am suspended in a limbo between Western science and Eastern metaphysics, between scientific validation and personal anecdotes. Darren Starwynn's comprehensive work, Microcurrent Electro-Acupuncture, initially reinvigorates my temptress, but, in the end, leaves me dangling.
This is the author's strongest section. He clearly explains basic electrophysiological principles, electrical terminology, and theory. In putting forth his universal laws of energy medicine, he builds a necessary foundation of principles upon which he can erect more elaborate, less tidy patient evaluations and treatments. For example:
"...the Law of Polarity is particularly vital in microcurrent electroacupuncture... the use of incorrect polarities is the factor that most commonly... leads to disappointing clinical results. When we do not apply electrodes... according to the natural polarities of the body, we are working againstthe ...body..."
Starwynn goes on to describe a correct electrical treatment of sciatica: since the body's trunk is normally positive with respect to the limbs, the positive electrode (red) should be placed at the lower back and the negative electrode (black) at a painful area down the leg. Such a therapeutic scheme runs counter to meridian theory and energetics, where normal direction of Qi flow along the channels needs to be stimulated or reinforced. For Tai Yang Bladder and Shao Yang Gallbladder, the leads would be negative on the lower back and positive on the leg. Clinical empiricism and controlled clinical studies will demonstrate which electrode array, if any, is superior.
This is the least satisfying part of the book. Starwynn's patient evaluations are short on history taking and comprehensive physical examination, and long on kinesiology and meridian testing with black boxes. This does not imply that the clinician cannot find useful diagnostic techniques to try. But, it means that the approach to patients and their problems follows a mechanical rather than a medical model.
I found the common shortcomings of the electroacupuncture section thought-provoking though. For example, the common practice of running milliamp currents (generated by most commonly used stimulators) through needles may present several dangers: electrolysis, which can deposit potentially toxic metals from needles into tissues; and breaking needles, from the twitching of the muscles they have been inserted into. For this reason and several others, the author recommends using microamp currents. In 20 years of practice, I have yet to see a single needle break from muscle twitching; but, in theory, a combination of prolonged electrolysis from reusable needles and muscle twitching could break needles. Another shortcoming described is the practice of passive electrical stimulation. Starwynn contends much better therapeutic results using electrostimulation while the patient actively moves the affected muscle or joint.
The author's extensive sections on treatment approaches and protocols become a laundry list of therapies for maladies from acne to whiplash. The book's latter sections suffer from a lack of lucid narrative to bind them together. The catalogue of protocols, techniques, and formularies appears to emphasize quantity rather than quality. It is a grab bag. The clinician can best utilize this catalog, however, by referring to the table of contents and looking up the treatment technique or disease condition one wishes to treat.
An example is the treatment of Bell's palsy using local points such as: ST 2-7, LI 20, SI 18, GB 20, Yuyao, CV 24, and MH 17 (+) with distal points LI 4 or GB 41 (-) with microamp current at frequencies of 8.2-9.3. Certainly, stimulation in microcurrents and at such precise frequencies requires a precision instrument. Starwynn mentions several, but his bias is for his own, the Acutron Mentor. Promotions of this device, sprinkled throughout the text, detract from the remainder of the mostly useful material.
In the end, Microcurrent Electro-Acupuncture is a manual, albeit a useful one, for a substantive entry by the clinician into the field. A more comprehensive, balanced medical textbook on the subject remains to be written.
Dr Allen McDaniels is in the private practice of general Medical Acupuncture in San Pedro, California. Dr McDaniels is Chairman of the AAMA's Continuing Medical Education Committee.
Allen McDaniels, MD
603 W Sixth St
San Pedro, CA 90731-2325
Phone: 310-548-5935 • Fax: 310-548-8455 • E-mail: QMcDuck@pacbell.net