Dr. Lorenu Wu, president of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, inserts acupuncture needles into one of her patients. Wu is a medical doctor with a family practice in La Grange.

Dr. Lorenu Wu, president of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, inserts acupuncture needles into one of her patients. Wu is a medical doctor with a family practice in La Grange.

Acupuncture may be ancient — estimates range between 3-4,000 years old — but it is not an ancient Chinese secret. It's used all over the world by acupuncture practitioners as well as medical doctors.

We spoke with two experts to learn more. Lorene Wu is a medical doctor with a Family Practice office in La Grange. She is also an acupuncturist and is . Caroline Jung is a nationally board certified acupuncturist practicing in Chicago and is president of the board of the Illinois Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Prime Time asked Wu and Jung to provide the basics of this medical art and how it might work for you.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the insertion of sterile thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate hormonal and electromagnetic responses, explains Wu, which balance the flow of energy or "qi," (pronounced "chee").

These channels run throughout all areas of the body — legs, arms, backs, etc. Qi or life energy moves through these channels, says Jung. "When our qi becomes out of balance, symptoms arise such as the common cold, back pain, any illness and its symptoms," she adds.

Placing fine, thin needles into specific points along the channels balances the flow of qi in the body, in turn balancing the qi itself, with the aim of relieving illness and symptoms. 

"Acupuncture always treats the root (cause) and branch (symptom) of any illness," says Jung.

Who can practice this treatment?

Most states require practitioners to be board-certified and licensed. They receive their board certification through the NCCAOM (National Commission of Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine).

"Several practitioners are legally allowed to perform acupuncture such as licensed acupuncturists, physicians, chiropractors, dentists and veterinarians," says Wu. "However, look for NCCAOM certification/L.Ac. to insure the practitioner had adequate training. The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (medical acupuncture.org) lists MDs and DOs who have completed 500 hours of acupuncture training."

Jung says you can learn more about each state's requirements at www.acufinder.com.

Can it be used in conjunction with traditional western medicine?

Jung answers with an enthusiastic, "Absolutely. Acupuncture is wonderful to integrate with any western medicine treatment. Integrative medicine is becoming more widely used among all practitioners — western and eastern practitioners alike."

Wu seconds the enthusiasm. "Acupuncture can absolutely be used to complement most Western treatment," she says. "Occasionally it is used instead of Western treatment — for example acupuncture to treat musculoskeletal pain. But often is used with Western modalities, such as to lessen side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Each system has its own strengths, and together are very powerful."

Jung says that acupuncture does not interfere with any western medicine therapy. "One of the beautiful aspects of acupuncture," she adds, "is that it makes us more receptive to western medicine treatment, therefore, making the healing process that much more comfortable and efficient."

What conditions does it help for those 50 and over?

Wu says people over 50 are often treated for the following: musculoskeletal pain including lower back pain, neck pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, and other types of arthritic joint disorders; menopause; gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux; hypertension and other cardiac conditions; asthma and other lung disorders; chronic sinusitis and allergies; hearing loss and tinnitus; stroke; memory loss; anxiety and depression; and diabetes support.

What is a typical first visit like?

A typical visit varies depending on whether one is visiting a medical doctor with an acupuncture component or whether one is visiting a practitioner alone. In Wu's office, a typical visit includes a medical history from both a Western and Chinese medical perspective; a Western physical exam; a Chinese physical exam of mainly tongue and pulse; needle insertion and retention for 20 to 40 minutes.