“So it doesn’t matter what that thing is EMF or whatever. If it kicks a response in your body, then from our side we’re interested in what is the response that it kicks for you?”
“I think that’s the flexibility of the system. It’s like an open system. I think that it should enable it to continue to evolve and have a discussion about humanity’s movement into the 22nd century.“
In this interview with award-winning TCM practitioner, Dr. Troy Sing:
- How acupuncture can release different classes of endorphins
- How TCM views the different cycles of men’s health & how to increase testosterone
- How TCM prescribes herbs according to your unique body constitution
- Master’s in Neurophysiology, looking at how acupuncture works in terms of biochemistry
- How TCM is an open system, and how new developments within the past century such as EMF, heavy metal loads, BCPs can be viewed within the TCM framework
- How there are many different types of lineages of acupuncture
- TCM & pain management
- The Huang Di Nei Jing: Yellow Emperor’s Classic
- What is Qi and circulation within Chinese medicine
- TCM & Pulse Taking, “What a high cholesterol pulse might look like”
- What is dampness in the body, and how it can affect the pulse
- How the tongue can give signs of the digestive system
Troy is a Hong Kong Registered Practitioner of Chinese Medicine who has extensive clinical experience in Reproductive Medicine, Gynecology and Andrology. A graduate of Australia’s Chinese Medicine Degree (acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, neuromuscular massage) Program, he has also completed a Masters in neuro-physiology investigating the analgesic mechanisms of acupuncture (1995)
Troy’s publications include ‘The Analgesic Mechanisms of Acupuncture’, Journal of Chinese Medicine, 1996; and co-author of ‘Health Beauty & Vitality: A woman’s Guide to Chinese medicine’ 2004. He has held the post of course co-ordinator and lecturer at the University of Hong Kong’s Traditional Chinese Medicine Department (S.P.A.C.E.) (1997-2001). President of the Hong Kong Medical Acupuncture Association (2002-2005). Further post-graduate studies include Gynecology, Reproductive medicine, Andrology, and Sports Science.
How did you start your TCM journey?
It was pretty neat because I couldn’t talk at that time as I was so sore, and you felt that pain just drift away within the sessions.
This is an interesting story. When I was growing up in Australia, Sydney, my mum used to help immigrants resettle into Australia. There was one doctor called Dr. David Tai, and he was a TCM doctor.
When I was about 12, or 13, I had a headache, glandular fever, where all the glands swelled up in my throat. And my mom took me there and I had my first experience of doing acupuncture.
He just had this amazing technique that when I was laying there, placed these points around and I just felt this thing, just like lift out. And it was pretty immediate, it was pretty neat because I couldn’t talk at that time as I was so sore, and you felt that pain just drift away within the sessions.
I sort of forgot about it, and then school ended, and I had my choice to enroll in different areas. I was thinking to do medicine or veterinary science, and my mum was still friends with Dr. Tai and suggested I look at Chinese Medicine.
What did you learn?
They brought the course from the Nanjing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and so they would do biomedicine for the first few years and then Chinese medicine, which are two distinct ways of thinking.
So I went through that process of combining two different ways of thinking, which is what they do within China.
How did the two systems differ?
It’s totally different, one is biomedical analytical thinking. Whereas Chinese Medicine uses a lot of didactic which means an imperial type of learning. Using both literature and both hands-on experience to understand how that system works.
And there is a framework, they call it a system of correspondences, whereby things correspond usually within the seasonal patterns. We call it the five elements. wood fire earth, metal, water. So that was pretty interesting.
When I finished my course, down in Australia, I then worked in a rehab facility down in Melbourne.
They offered an array of treatments, both standard treatments and natural therapies that people could choose, and we could put together programs for them.
So I was there for two years, I used to work in the therapeutic community, which is where people come up out of the city for three months, and they would live on a farm.
So I was there for a couple of years. And then went up to China and did our training up there and met some people that said, I should come down to Hong Kong, could be pretty interesting down here, you may find some teachers. So I headed down here looking for something right, looking to improve my skillset.
Masters in neurophysiology, looking at how acupuncture works in terms of biochemistry.
So I went on and did a neurophysiology master’s, looking at how acupuncture works in terms of biochemistry.
It was pretty interesting, the group I was attached to included Mabel Yang, she had a keen interest in Chinese medicine and identified polypeptides, that was extracted from the mushroom, and she’d extract this polypeptide for cancer.
In one experiment we were trying to identify the difference between endorphins, we have different classes of endorphins, there are those we release under stress, exercise, and those that modulate pain, mood, and these type of things.
So we’re trying to identify how they work? Are they a hormone? And what blockers can be used?
Can acupuncture can help release endorphins?
Yeah, that’s right, which is one of the theories behind how it works for opioid addiction, is that by using acupuncture in a repetitive fashion.
When people are using opioids, their receptors become hypersensitive to opioids, and the body stops producing its own, therefore there’s a deficit between the opioids and hence they have to keep increasing their opioids to take away the imbalance from the chemical addiction, right?
Do all acupuncture points work the same, or do some points work better?
All points can, but some points work better. Such as Ear Points.
I think the ears are innovated by two parts of the nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. And it has several vascular settings.
There are hundreds of points on the ears, and those seem to work best.
Acupuncture and different frequencies
So if you use a low-frequency pulse, you will release different types of endorphins.
From two to four you will get Beta endorphins, which is very common endorphin.
But if you pump it up to 50 to 100, then you Dynorphins. Dynorphins are a different type of structure, for those types of neurotransmitters that modulate much more into the mood component.
Different acupuncture techniques
Which before used to be by hand, right? So we have slow and fast techniques like in traditional acupuncture, you use a slower technique to be able to build up, or a faster technique to withdraw or sedate.
Now with modern technology, there are different ways to do this. And so we were looking at what type will happen when you stimulate with different types of stimulations.
Does acupressure work?
It does, but it’s probably much slower because you can’t speed up the repetition as fast.
Different styles of acupuncture
I was quite fascinated by that type of styling of acupuncture.
There’s this whole school, discussion, and arguments that are followed through different lineages as they tried to, you know, dominate, or express their ideas, an intellectual conversation,
So in Taiwan, a lot of practitioners over there use a style of acupuncture which is a distal imaging style.
So rather than focus on needling where the problem is they will needle on a distal area. So that would mean say you have a shoulder or neck problem, they may needle down here on your ankle, in relation to the meridian.
It can be coming from that point, but sometimes it could also be coming from the meridian point lower.
Well, that concept is that the meridian should be in endless circulation, free-flowing circulation, and when it becomes obstructed, the end result may reflect itself, in a neck and shoulder pain where you feel the pain.
But there will be areas along the same meridian that goes through this area, so for example there may be four types of channels that may be affected in this area.
Sometimes you can influence or you may find the tissue when you palpate or press the tissue, you may find that there are bubbles there or there are strong fascial lines or there’s the tissue is different than the surrounding tissue.
Like during during an accupressure foot massage, and they will say a certain point corresponds to a particular organ?
There is some validity.
I think it’s an empirical science, and empirical suggests that through the use of it, you can see the result, explaining the result within the parameters of modern Biomedicine at this stage may be more difficult.
But if it produces the result, then it’s up to us to figure out how did we get to that end result?
Which may or may not be valid level of knowledge yet, right.
So discounting it, just because we can’t explain it using a particular model of thinking doesn’t suggest that it’s not a reality?
Yeah, I think that’s an interesting thing about Chinese medicine that asks the question well, reality is a perceived construct that enables us to predict an outcome or a future, right? And through using those types of theoretical constructs, then this may give us an opportunity to see how to change a particular outcome.
It may not as well, right. If it doesn’t, then clearly it’s not useful. Right? That’s what is called knowledge, the ability to know when things work or don’t work. And if it’s not working, then it’s a bit of madness to keep doing the same thing.
So I think, you know, all systems, and Chinese medicine itself tries to understand that construct, by giving us an ability to view the body or health in a different light than maybe we’re viewing it at the moment in biomedicine or any other format.
The body in relation to our environment
Well, I think our bodies are connected to the environment, and the environment is either expanding or contracting in relation to the seasonal component.
So in summer, we would expect things to expand because what happens when we heat stuff, it expands. And in winter, when it’s cold things contract, so the thinking is that oh, maybe the body, it does the same thing.
So when we heat the body, what happens? The pores expand, we sweat, pulse rate goes up, tissue flushes get warmer, oh that interesting, right? So it does follow some common natural laws.
Within the plant system, a lot of nutrients are being stored in the rhizome of the plant, a lot of the exterior foliage in a number of plants, but not all plants will fall off, right, and nothing will grow.
But if the ground isn’t cold enough, during the winter, then its expression in spring, can be different. So when you talk to farmers, you know, they’re always saying, oh, you know, wasn’t such a cold winter, I don’t know whether it’s going to be such a good spring, and I think the body as I understand Chinese medicine is they’re trying to reflect those same patterns, using terminology yin yang & those five elements.
And that’s what classical Chinese medicine tries to get us to think about is that those constructs are in play, and they are in play in our body in a particular fashion.
And observing where or how they display themselves allows us to do a simple treatment. like to warm up feet, or a more complicated treatment, like acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine stuff like that
What are some things for people who aren’t too familiar with, you think Traditional Chinese Medicine can be effective towards treating?
Pain management, a lot of times utilizing or improving the blood flow and improving the circulation and reducing down inflammatory response has major improvement in terms of functional status and reducing pain.
So that’s one and may save that person from needing to use heavy drugs, when they may not necessarily need to use over a long period, and particularly degenerative conditions, you know, like osteoarthritis, and then all those autoimmune type conditions rheumatoid arthritis, and these type of other types.
These are like autoimmune conditions where our body turns against itself. There’s more and more evidence showing the use of acupuncture in terms of reducing pain and managing pain and even some of the herbal medicines in regards to helping to modify the immune response.
The frequency of acupuncture treatments, does it depend on your specific situation at that time?
Yeah, that’s why we see how that person responds, usually the techniques I’m using enable the body to respond in a very quick fashion. So we can see the extent of damage that is done during treatment, by how they respond, and also how well their body can hang on to that effect.
That means they may get 30 to 50% improvement of their pain pattern or their functional movement within the session. But does that mean that every day from that moment forth, their body be able to capitalize on that and improve it by 20 to 50% improvement each day?
This is not a phenomenon, it’s just a natural, normal fact.
Is that also influenced by lifestyle factors?
Yeah, I mean those factors play a role and people’s constitutional status, you know, sometimes they just don’t have the resources available. And we can see that through those different types of tests that they have in western biomedicine they’re just missing those components.
So in Chinese medicine, we have terminology that describes those types and understand that, that’s probably a management thing, it may not be able to resolve itself, but may be able to support through the use of different techniques, breathing, for example, lifestyle changes, dietary changes and things like that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Qi, this vital energy. In yoga, we talk about how it’s this vital life force, and it’s not just in human beings and every living thing around us. I wonder if your perspective on Qi has changed over the years? And where it’s at now?
Yes, I think so. I think initially when I came in, I was part of that occidental type of sino approach whereby the concept of this metaphysical idea of energy was very inviting and opened up many possibilities.
The idea that there’s this stuff that circulates through the body that is described as Qi. But as I’ve moved through my investigation and my practice, I think the Qi in Chinese medicine, we’re talking about is probably more a construct of like a fabric of how the tissue plane is constructed, and not necessarily an energetic thing.
So now I think that circulation is the most predominant thing I’m interested in, such as where the circulation moves, where can we see that on the body? Does it feel warm, does it feel tight?
Does it look like it’s moving or not moving? And Qi is that component, that fabric that allows that circulation to move through it.
What are some things that you find TCM is quite helpful for when it comes to men’s health?
I think the difference in Chinese medicine, in the first of the Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Classic) Chapter 1, they describe the life cycles of men and women.
In women, it’s a 7-year cycle, and in men, it’s an 8-year cycle.
Throughout each of those eight-year cycles, different things develop. So when it comes to men’s health men follow a similar process where before 16 their body is developing towards puberty, then post-puberty, you hit that peak, and when you hit 35 years to 40s, then you start to get that decline.
And that’s all dependent on both your ability to collect, through your lifestyle, the things that you have experienced, such as the traumas that you’ve had.
And then the decline occurs, this digestive ability and other abilities, less able to collect those things from the food we eat, or the exercises that we do.
And hence, you will start to see a series of conditions being caused, you know, degenerative joint problems, definitely, on the internal side, you see liver issues, heart issues, and then other manifestations of accumulation.
Chinese medicine addresses those different stages with different treatment strategies.
We use Chinese herbs as our mechanism trying to strengthen those areas and we use the pulse as a mechanism to understand how circulation is moving to the different regions of the body.
That means where tissue and inflammation start to build up in different areas, commonly for men’s prostate, right when they hit their 50s or 60s.
So Chinese medicine addresses those different stages with different treatment strategies. They may use diet and exercise in the earliest phases because there’s less structural damage, but as the structural damage takes hold, then there are fewer options available.
There’s still benefit from following what they call a rounded diet. But eventually, with structural damage, then you will need to use biochemistry to help to improve that. We use Chinese herbs as our mechanism trying to strengthen those areas and we use the pulse as a mechanism to understand how circulation is moving to the different regions of the body.
When it’s out of position, then we have a series of herbs that we think correspond to those components. So if the pulse is pushed down, then we want to lift it.
So we may use herbs that then lift it within different regions of the body. For example, we see a lot of cholesterol components showing up between 35 to 45 in men and we may find that their pulse in some positions because cholesterol is seen as a type of dampness or blood stasis, starts as dampness.
Dampness is a type of humidity or fluid that the body’s unable to transform and transport out of their system. And it lodges itself at different levels. So it has a dampening, like water dampening, nonphysiological type of fluid, dampness presses down and reduces circulation.
So in the pulse, we may find that when we take the pulse, it’s deep and spongy feels like a sponge, right? Because something is going on there.
In Chinese herbal medicine, we very rarely use just one herb, we’re trying to build or construct a formula that reflects the person we’re seeing in front of us, looking at whether the pulse is either elevated in the upper part of the body or depressed.
For men, we see that it’s often that testosterone starts to drop down, once men hit around 40-45
To assist those organs to function in a better state. So for men we see that, it’s often that testosterone starts to drop down, once men hit around 40-45, right. So there’s a lot of herbs that help to build, and they’re not hormones in and of themselves, but when our body takes them in a particular format, in a formula, then we see if we take blood tests that the hormonal component changes.
For example, the herb Yin Yang Huo when it’s used together with Ba Jin Tian which is Morinda.
Those two herbs work synergistically together to help the body, the testes, and the adrenals to start increasing their production of testosterone.
And that’s where Chinese medicine is so fascinating because you prescribe individual herbs according to that person’s constitution right?
Yes. Correct. We’re trying to understand the movement of fluid and the functional status of that person.
We can look at the tongue as well. The tongue gives us information about the digestive function, to some extent, and also about the quality of blood that’s circulating because you can see a lot of blood vessels and the color of the tongue, and that can start to instruct our questioning about their sleep.
What happens when they digest food, what happens when they exercise or don’t exercise and through that information, those more objective pulse measurements and tongue measurements, and then through the questioning and inquiring and other observations of the hands, maybe we use the ears or the eyes or the face or the body structure. We start to build a picture of that particular person.
From that, we can start to look at herbs through a system of correspondences.
TCM has been around for thousands of years, however, there’s been a lot of new developments in the past century. Such as EMFs, Pollution, Plastics. How does TCM address or view these developments?
I think Chinese medicine has a descriptive terminology to try to understand when a pathogen presents itself to our body, how does our body responds, and we try to divide it into six types of things, dry, damp, heat, cold, fire.
Through giving a categorization to the presentation of those symptoms, helps us to identify them.
Doesn’t matter what you call the thing that is the pathogen.
Whether it’s heavy metals, pollutants, BPAs from plastics, we’re interested in Chinese medicine about what response they kick off in your body in terms of those categories that we’re given to understand how the body would respond when it’s trying to defend itself or respond to any environmental pathogen that’s not part of ourselves.
Whether it’s heavy metals, pollutants, BPAs from plastics, we’re interested in Chinese medicine about what response they kick off in your body
And then as we see that again, and again, then we may see that, oh, you know plastics are kicks in this response, or heavy metals always kick this response.
Or we may find that, oh, only certain body groups respond to it in this way.
So it’s from that point of view, they use that type of logic. They’re still looking at cause and effect, but they’re not limited to just one causal expression.
I think that’s the flexibility of the system. It’s like an open system. I think that it should enable it to continue to evolve and have a discussion about humanity’s movement into the 22nd century.
I think that’s the flexibility of the system. It’s like an open system.
What are some of your favorite books you like to give or recommend to people relating to traditional Chinese medicine?
One book I’m interested in at the moment is Classical Chinese Medicine by Liu Lihong, it’s more geared towards the practitioner. But I think young practitioners should read this to help them understand the positioning of the knowledge that they have already obtained, and how to move that knowledge forward.
I think he’s one of those masters, and it’s in Chinese and English, who can help to verbalize the constructs of Chinese medicine.
I started out reading Ted Kaptchuk, The Web That Has No Weaver, it’s a very old book, an oldie but a goodie.
Quite interestingly, he’s now studying the placebo effect, which is very interesting, right? The body under the right instruction can in itself heal, heal itself, and you know, when it cannot be explained, they put it into this placebo effect, which is pretty interesting. And I think, yeah, that would be an area of research that could work really well.
You can find Dr. Sing at HealthWise in Hong Kong.