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Acupuncture And Your Heart with Robert Koagedal
I’ve got Robert Koagedal on this show. He is a Licensed Acupuncturist. He’s got a booming practice in Arizona. I met Robert many years ago. I know his amazing family, his wife, Mary, and the kids. It’s a great group of people. Usually I see everybody, Robert, at Whole Foods. We can bash Whole Foods all we want, but sometimes it’s the only game in town for certain things. If there was anything that Whole Foods has created, it’s a fun, healthy vibe. Maybe they’re selling conventional oranges from Nicaragua, but at least it’s a fun place to hang out.
In fact, it felt like for a while now we couldn’t go there without running into you and your beautiful family. That was always fun to see, especially when you know that people are putting their money where their mouth is and people wanting to support things that are health-promoting. Supporting the farmers that are producing things that are healthy for us, that’s a big part of what I try to promote. I certainly work with patients in my practice.
I certainly would prefer to see you guys at the farmer’s market in Old Town Scottsdale. What an amazing farmer’s market that is, especially for Arizona, a place where there’s no water. You can’t imagine how anyone’s farming anything there besides cactus. It’s a fantastic farmer’s market.
We’re regular Saturday morning people there too. Another spot that at least in the desert you can access a certain quality of food. This is not necessarily what you’re going to find in another latitude that you can grow. At least, it’s what we can get here so I’m going to find them where we can.
Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine, how does Robert Koagedal get into that? He is a nice kid. He’s got a Swedish lineage. How does he get into acupuncture and Chinese medicine?You don't dig a well after you become thirsty. Click To Tweet
As you can probably guess it’s not an infrequent question at my office when someone walks in. I tell you to this day, it still is that people walk in and they look at me a little funny and they go, “You’re not Chinese.” I get that look, I can see it. As you say, I’m not so young anymore but back in my younger days, the kid that was running around looking for a way to behave in this world, a way to find a way of making a living. I’m thinking about the values that I held. I was looking for a meaningful paradigm that explained some things that I wasn’t getting from what I was finding. Whether it was in the basic courses in college. I came across a book that a roommate of mine introduced me to called The Web That Has No Weaver. I was a philosophy student in college. I was familiar with the principles of Taoism and Chinese philosophy and had studied quite a bit of East Asian religious traditions and Buddhism and the yoga. I was doing yoga even back 30 years ago. When I read that book, it lit a little fire in my brain that there was a method, a model, an interpretive process that allowed me to see health and wellness connected to nature, connected to ways of living that supported your natural buoyancy, your natural resilience.
When I read that book, I had it in the back of my mind that if that was possible, I wanted to go study that. Remember, this is 26 years ago. I’ve been doing this at least 20 to 40 years. I pondered that for a while. A friend of mine was applying to medical school and through that, he got a little burnt out on the process and the bureaucracy and what was involved in, he said, “You could study acupuncture in the US.” I started looking into it. I found a few schools. There’s a longer story, but the long and the short of that is I jumped my feet full into it. I dove in and went to school in Santa Fe, New Mexico where they had a good program that offered the basic outlines of what is now called traditional Chinese medicine. If maybe for your readers that might be something that’s helpful for them if they want to know beyond acupuncture. People think of acupuncture, which is being utilized by about every health provider. Everyone wants to get in on using acupuncture, whether it’s physical therapists or chiropractors or all of them.
Historically, Chinese medicine, acupuncture is one of the therapies within what’s called the five branches of Chinese medicine. That’s what you study in school. A lot of fun diving into all those areas of Chinese medicine that you can have that relate to herbal medicine, botanicals, nutritionals and dietetics of Chinese medicine, a kind of physical therapy or acupressure. The thing that I got most excited about when I first started studying is that they didn’t separate the mind and the body. They saw that clearly there was no delineation between where these began and how our physical health affected our emotional health and vice versa. That was so sane to me that’s my experience. I think that’s every person’s experience, but we live in a culture that divides that. It’s built upon methods of manipulating our biology to try to correct imbalances. Not that that doesn’t have its place, but a paradigm that includes mind and body was beautiful to me. It’s still the most elegant, sophisticated, interpretive model of health I have come across.
You had so many amazing nuggets in there too. It’s not that I’m necessarily opposed to people practicing outside of their lanes because people can say, “Jack Wolfson, you’re practicing outside of your lane. You’re a cardiologist. Now, you’re talking about all this natural stuff.” When you’re talking about the five branches of traditional Chinese medicine that you go to somebody who’s the best trained at it. Why should someone be concerned about, “Robert Koagedal, he’s not Chinese. Therefore, I’m going to go see a Chinese doctor because they are better at it,” or maybe they even went to China or they went to some of the schools in China. How is the educational process any different? Is the American trained doctor in general, not necessarily from Sweden or not or the white guy, the traditional guy as good as the guy from China?
I had this fun patient, a big guy, 6’4″, 240. He never had acupuncture before. He said when he walked in, he looked at me a little side and he’s like, “My girlfriend said I shouldn’t go see some white guy practicing acupuncture, but I looked at your site and so I’m here.” That is not an uncommon interpretation that people have. What I think is maybe missing in the cultural understanding from American looking for someone who’s an expert in Chinese medicine. I also don’t have any real problems with people practicing outside of the lane. We’re learning as a culture as we go along in what we call all of these divisions are artificial. Properly when you think about health and you can apply these therapies in many successful ways. It’s not because one person is the expert. Having said that, it’s a phenomenon in which when something has been in a culture for a long time.
Let’s say historically, Chinese medicine goes from guesses of 2,000 to 5,000 years of history. When the Communists took over in China, their paradigm was a strongly anti-spiritual and atheist perspective. They did everything they could to remove a lot of the mental, emotional and spiritual connections in the medicine. When a culture has become bored to some degree with its own traditions, going to another culture enlightens it. When Chinese medicine then drifted across the seas and ended up in America here, I think we’re in a beautiful part of where you’re re-enlivening some of the deepest aspects of Chinese medicine. That’s how I see it and how I want to engage with it. Between the few, whether you go see a person who is traditionally trained in China, they’ve got a certain perspective. They practice it a certain way. I’d say what I do with maybe I want to say a growth off of that, but it certainly takes the foundations of that. I bring a new life to it that I think makes it uniquely American acupuncture. Time will tell but so far, it’s been pretty successful.
We’ve got a lot of mutual patients. They speak the world of you. One of the things you talked about is about how modern medicine, certainly how I was trained, where there’s the physical body which encompasses the vast majority of medical doctors that are practicing that way. You’ve got the psychiatrists. They’re over in the mental realm. The psychiatrist over there is all about pharmaceuticals. From a philosophy standpoint, Rudolf Steiner was a philosopher in the late 1800s, the early 1900s, the founder of the Waldorf School of Methodology, a brilliant philosopher in Germany at the time and he comes up with this whole concept of anthroposophic medicine. Stressing the importance of the mind, the soul, the spirit as one with the body and talking about them simultaneously. That’s such a foreign concept to the medical doctor but for you, it makes total common sense?
I’d say the way that Dr. Steiner articulated it, and I don’t understand all of his principles, but the one that we both have heard from him is his famous statement that, “The world will not evolve further until they recognize that the heart is not a pump.” That summary tells you that when we’re stuck in the scientific determinism when we’re stuck in this view that this is a bunch of random stuff. What’s very interesting and this ties back to acupuncture is what organizes that? What is the intelligence that organizes this entire physiology? The Chinese called that chi and there are variations in the Chinese philosophy of how that manifests both in our organ systems, in the mind and the body.
The principle there for all of your readers is that division that has been created in our culture is artificial. It’s a stamp of a mindset that says these are not related. In many ways, there was a rebellion against religious authority that I think with a helpful way of getting religion out of my health. I think that’s a long history lesson. The principle there is that it led us down a road in which maybe we threw the baby out with the bath water. There’s a lot of things that were missing in our current healthcare system that practices of chiropractic principles of Chinese medicine filled that void for patients when they go to see their physician. They’re looked at like a bunch of chemicals. That void, otherwise I wouldn’t be in business, I think at this point when you go see someone, out of network process and people return because of the benefits they get and addressing them as a whole.
When you say that term in the network, it makes you think about you’re in the medical matrix. You’re in that medical model. You’re lost in there. Sometimes you don’t know any better. You don’t know any different. You don’t know that anything else exists. To jump into the space that we’re in, the causation space, that holistic health and wellness space is tremendous. Why should someone go to see a traditional Chinese medicine provider/who provides acupuncture? Why should we go? Is it everybody should go or should we go for a specific reason? Tell me.We live in a culture that divides the mind and the body. Click To Tweet
I think categories of challenges that people face in their health outside of the context of the emergency situation because from our conversation, I hope no one leaves with the idea that somehow I’m anti-Western medicine. There are genius applications of Western medicine that you and I would both want, should we need those services and applied in that context. I want well-paid surgeons who know how to do things that they’ve practiced hard to get to that. When you get to those areas of chronic health concerns where people are struggling with subpar health, fatigue, headaches and sleep issues, mood disorders and digestive complaints. Where the only offering that allopathic medicine has is some type of patchwork Band-Aid pharmaceutical. It’s almost becoming cliché now to criticize this because I think the cat is out of the bag that it’s a very unsophisticated and a view of who we are as human beings and to be treated that way. When you go to your doctor and all that they say is, “We’ll take this pill.” Most people are waking up that’s a bunch of nonsense.
You and Heather were powerful voices in my early starting of this where you got challenged that paradigm and said this is a bunch of nonsense and we need to do better. You guys have always been an inspiration to me and how vocal you are in challenging that. Believe me, I have plenty of physician friends and I know that sometimes they don’t speak up when they challenge those things. That’s a variety of other reasons. We’re getting to a place where for someone who’s looking for wellness, who’s looking for why are they subpar, why is their health subpar? Why are they not optimal? Why are they not in a state of fully functioning, which is their gift of being alive as a human being? This can be a place to begin. It’s not the only place, but this is a place where within Chinese medicine, we have an interpretive model that sees the relationships between those various confounding symptoms. Whether it’s the gut issues that you have that you’re not sleeping that great. How’s your sex life? What does it mean to live deep with your highest energies? Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are tools for addressing those.
You bring up a fantastic point and that we both agree on that. In an emergency situation, you’re probably not going to your chiropractor. You’re probably not going to your traditional Chinese medicine doc acupuncturists. You’re not going to your holistic cardiologist out in Arizona. You’re going to go to an emergency room and that’s where we go for emergencies. I’ve often said, when it comes to prevention, the medical doctors have nothing. We know that. Aspirin is not prevention. Statins aren’t prevention. The testing they do isn’t prevention. It’s all a cover-up, manmade approach. Maybe there’s early diagnosis for whatever that’s worth, which is typically a no. I know the answer to this, but I want you to agree with it, is it safe to say that a traditional Chinese medicine doctor like yourself, could you be the primary care doctor to a 48-year-old guy like me?
I’d say the way that I went through training and the way that most acupuncturists currently, there would be a little more of a little more sophisticated training in the biomedicine that would be required, at least from this side of it. Other professions, whether it’s naturopaths or chiropractors, I don’t know what level they’re willing to work at and take the responsibility of being a primary care provider for that. I’d say if we move to a better way of looking at education and including a holistic paradigm within that primary care provider, I’d say, “Absolutely, yeah.”
Robert, you’ve seen thousands of people. What percentage do you think right now consider you their primary doc?
I would say a good percentage of them will now come back to me before they go seek the advice of their primary care physician in which they’re going to try to evaluate their health in a way that deals with it naturally. They will definitely return to my office. Maybe some of them were going to check in with their doc to see what their advice is. I advised that because there are things that I don’t do and that I don’t check for that either a well-trained and integrative physician or primary care doctor does do. I’m not looking personally. I know this has been a part of what you’ve been advocating as a cultural shift is chiropractors becoming primary care physicians and taking on that role. That’s great. I’m not sure that I personally want that role yet only as to what people’s expectations are in the legal ramifications of that.
What you were saying is best scenario. You work in conjunction with the holistic health provider, whether it’s MD, DO or naturopathic doc. As far as I’m concerned, Doctor of Chiropractic. What it comes down to is also finding the individual person because with your knowledge, your expertise, people would have a very good comfort level with you than someone maybe that’s fresh out of training. What I probably asked you that question, you’re probably a little-concerned saying, “I know some people that probably are TCMs, Traditional Chinese Medicine providers and they probably should not be the primary care doctor.”
I say that’s where we’re at in educational system now. It’s been many years. I’m seeing a lot of people get pretty comfortable in seeing when something requires referral and when you’re able to address something. That’s more from experience. For this conversation, I would say there needs to be a little bit of a further level to that to be in that position personally. There might be other acupuncture out reading to this and go, “No, I’m ready to do it.” I think that’s where we’re at in terms of the system.
I appreciate that honesty. That provides valuable information. Tell me, somebody calls up your practice. This is going to go to people all over the world and for anybody who wants to come out and see Robert Koagedal in Arizona, I know that he would be willing to see you. You better book well ahead of time because I know he’s a busy man. I make an appointment and I show up on the first visit and say, “I feel fine.” My best friend sees an acupuncturist in Chicago and he said, “Go check it out.” What happens on that first visit?
That first visit is then filling out a barrage of questions that deal more with the subtleties of your health, from whether or not you have sleep issues, from whether or not you have digestive complaints. We put together what I call a collage of the various checkmarks that stand out on your inquiry, on your intake that lead me to develop what’s called a symptom picture. That means we have a collection of your current symptoms in the ten questions. We called the ten questions in Chinese medicine. We put that together and through that, we develop a plan of applying acupuncture, applying the principles of healthy eating, and applying the principles of learning how to move into parasympathetic. Stress plays a pivotal role in a lot of the deterioration of our health and learning skills that the otherwise healthy person can use as prevention. This gets back to what you said in your question in Chinese medicine. The highest practice of medicine is prevention. The ancient way of saying that is that you don’t dig a well after you become thirsty. That line of thinking is exactly what got me inspired into this medicine. To me, if we are going to do anything to address the fact that we’re headed towards 20% of GDP spent on healthcare, which is going to economically bankrupt our country. We need to have a better model to understand prevention and work from that place and not fix it when it’s about to go out and indeed explode.Sometimes you look for a meaningful paradigm that explains some things that you aren't getting from what you're finding. Click To Tweet
If there’s any overriding theme that comes up so often, Robert, is that this autonomic balance and how important that is to every organ system, the brain, and how the autonomic nervous system that’s coming from the brain, sympathetics, parasympathetics, how that all comes into balance. Tell me why we’re in such sympathetic overdrive? Where does traditional Chinese medicine come in to balance the autonomics?
I call that problem the hardware and the software problem. For me, if I’m evaluating someone, it’s almost the question is where is that central imbalance coming from? What’s the center of gravity of where their health problem is arising from? If your hardware is off, that is, if you have hormone imbalances or call your software program, meaning if your story is that everything is out to get me. That you’re always in a state of interpreting your environment as though there’s a threat. Either one of those is going to lead to imbalances. If they’re otherwise doing well on their nutrition, they get enough sunshine. They do a lot of good things for their health, but they’re still struggling, then we learn meditation. We learn the practices and techniques and tools. When you come in for acupuncture here, this isn’t about sticking you full of needles. When you lie down with acupuncture here, the therapy is to help guide your entire autonomic nervous system into a state of parasympathetic.
That translates biologically into powerful healing for your immune system, the entire system. The acupuncture therapies here are offered in a way that doesn’t even sidetrack the fact that if you aren’t able to more often than not go into deep states of relaxation, you’re going to reach burnout. That burnout state we see in our culture writ large. I work in that sense individually with people to help address those things by learning those tools and techniques as well as addressing what I call the hardware issue. How’s your lifestyle? Do you sit in front of the computer all day? Do you get up? Do you get enough sunshine? Are you drinking structured water? Are you doing your grounding? All the fun lifestyle stuff that I like to teach on mitochondrial medicine.
The first appointment, they would typically include some form of acupuncture therapy as well on the first visit or what?
We’ll sit down. We do the classic goal that’s called reading of the pulses, looking and evaluating the tongue, the ten questions, getting that whole story, getting their history and learn what their goals are and get a sense of what their vision is for their health. Look at what they’ve been doing, what they’ve tried, who they’ve seen, what medication they are on, what’s worked and what hasn’t. Try to develop a step-by-step plan on the cumulative things they can begin to put one foot forward for us to change the dynamics of their health and to begin to get results. No one comes to see me consistently and paying you their hard-earned money unless they get some transformation unless something changes. That’s the beauty of having a side paradigm practice when it’s a cash business is that you have to get results. People don’t come running back to me if they found that after a certain amount of time, they’re still struggling with their health. I’m motivated to evaluate all the areas that are a powerful way of changing your biology and your mind instead of getting back into balance.
As far as food in traditional Chinese medicine, you’ll have to let me know where things are and what the interpretation or how you approach it is because we both go to the farmer’s market. We both go to Whole Foods where we know that organic and pesticide-free produce. If we eat seafood, it’s wild. If we eat meat, it’s free-range grass fed. Where did the Chinese come in and how do you look through their eyes at the individual patient from a nutrition standpoint?
You could say that maybe my views on that have evolved even beyond the Chinese medical perspective. I’m taking account of what a lot of science of nutrition tells us about moving beyond the calories in and calories out model. Understanding that quality is paramount and that eating is seasonal. It’s central. Eating local and seasonal is key to that. I take a lot of cues from a person you know too and understanding that all food is tied to the photosynthetic web. If you’re eating outside of that, that can lead to circadian imbalances. I promote, you could say a seasonal, local form of Paleo or Keto that is built around what your gut system, what your biology tells me you’re designed for.
If someone comes into the traditional Chinese medicine and you told me what you think and I know that about you, but what about if they go into somebody else who recommended? The Chinese spent studying this for thousands of years.
The Chinese dietetics is you’ve probably heard of not putting ice in your water and not drinking a lot of cold fluids because this is considered to be the conversion of food into chemical energy requires that your digestive system is able to do that efficiently. You become inefficient for whatever reason. You don’t properly break down your food. It’s going to become what they call phlegm or damp phlegm. That’s the language that’s used. I tend in my practice to move beyond some of the classical Chinese language in describing things because when I say that to people, they look at me funny. That is the language associated with inefficient digestion is they build up damp phlegm. If that goes on long enough, it will cause a lot of problems.
If you went and saw someone, for example, who was maybe still a Chinese practitioner, they’re going to recommend things like congees. They’re like this cooked soup. They’re big into cooking stews and a lot of those foods. I think still within the Chinese dietetics, this even get back the circadian rhythm and eating locally and seasonally. It’s an overall principle. If anyone went to do that, hopefully, that’s what you would get. Stay away from sugar and processed food and all that stuff. What you and I are thinking about or at least where I’m headed is even beyond the Food Paradigm. We’ve been moving into more of an understanding of light and balances and what those are doing to us currently in the modern world.
There are a lot of people who believe that food is lower down on the rung of importance. At the very least, it would be in the third place. It’s one and one A is sun and sleep. I’m not sure which one is more important. I would definitely have to say that if you take a person who’s on the best diet yet doesn’t get sun and doesn’t sleep, they’re in trouble. They’re in more trouble than the person who gets the sun, gets the sleep even though they’re eating junk food. Let’s say that they’re all three very important and we can agree on that. This laboratory testing come into your wheelhouse or things that you look at or consider with the individual patient?
This does get back to when you go to school for Chinese medicine, which historically the highest degree offered was a Master’s of Science in Oriental Medicine. As of about many years ago, they started offering a Doctoral program. I don’t know the level of where those people get into learning testing and stuff. Maybe like a naturopath or that I don’t do labs or order labs. That’s why I would say I work more with an integrative physician or a naturopath if someone wants to get that more information. That would stand back to your original question of how I think if someone wanted to practice Chinese medicine as you could say a primary care provider that would be something that would be wanted as a regular part of your initial visit and etc. It’s not at my office. They will have to have that from their doctor.
When it comes to supplements, everybody is concerned about the quality of the supplements, the integrity and the history of the company. If I go to a traditional Chinese medicine provider, how do I know that their supplements are of quality? There must be the best of the best companies where I have no doubt that you carry the best of the best Chinese supplements. How do we know?
There is a bit of selection involved in which you have to discern and research their companies and where things come from. I tend to have towards American companies. I carry a lot of standard processes, which was where the chiropractors were very much overthinking and using that company. They saw the market for a lot of acupuncturists coming out of school. They’ve tapped into those formulas. I’ve been on the farm. I’ve done the tour. I’ve seen that a good portion of their products is effectively dehydrated food and concentrated. The way that they have applied the different formulas that they have are very much in sync with the Chinese principles of applying botanicals and herbs. I’m again not to hopefully one of my friends who are out there and own Chinese herbal companies, but I don’t use a lot of those.
I’m going to use the standard process. I’m going to use a lot of the nutraceuticals that are probably more in the bag of say natural paths or others that use different supplements within that. I gear towards each patient, depending on what their needs are. On that note, I stick to things that are mostly American, I have witnessed what’s grown in terms of Chinese botanicals. I’m confident that they do go through various testing processes that rendered them at least helpful. I don’t have the ability to check those claims. I try to stay away from those personally.
One of my favorite supplements and I know you use it in your practice as well is Berberine. Berberine has been studied by the Chinese for 75 years, at least in the medical literature and probably for thousands before that.
How do you use it?
Berberine, to me, I think it’s like the Swiss army knife of supplements. It does everything. If you go into the medical literature and you’ve got a health complaint, whether it’s cancer, there are hundreds of studies on Berberine and cancer. Hundreds of studies on cardiovascular and lipid modification, blood sugar modification, tremendous antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-aging supplement on what it does as well. There’s evidence that it helps to heal a leaky gut. It’s not that it itself is magical, but it’s what it does to the enzymes of the body. It seems to upgrade all the good enzymes like AMPK. It’s a Nrf2 Activator yet it also inhibits NF-κB and other things that tend to be pro-inflammatory.
Historically, Chinese medicine is going to apply what’s called the formula, which is the herbs are then used in conjunction with each other because historically some herbs were mildly toxic and follow the principle of hormesis that a little bit of poison is helped promoting. They have very sophisticated formulas. In order to get back to that, I’d love to see an indigenous American way of interpreting our local botanicals that can take the logic and thinking of Chinese medicine. Give us confidence in how they are grown and where they’re grown. I think that would be a cool thing as a fun thing to do. Some people are doing that and some herbalists that I know that are master herbalists like Andrew Goddard and others have great companies that they’re even adding some of those things locally here. Plant medicine shows up as having a vast array of healing opportunities and applied correctly as a beautiful healing tradition.
Robert, how do people find you? I know you’ve got a lot of clients that are from all over the country, if not out of the country. How do people find you?
They go to our website. That’s probably the simplest way. They can access that. If you put that up, that’s AcuHealthAz.com. That’s a great way to have access to our information or know a little more about our practice. Hopefully, this gives them an introduction to the services we provide here. Hopefully, we can answer any questions, you are welcome to give us a call. Mary upfront has gotten pretty good over the years at addressing some introductory stuff. I’m happy to give patients a callback and see how we can be helpful and learn more about personally what they’re interested in.
Robert, it’s always a pleasure. We will see you next time.
About Robert Koagedal
AcuHealth is a full-service Holistic Health clinic treating many of today’s chronic health concerns using natural therapies including Botanical Medicine, Acupuncture, Nutrition, and Mind-Body therapies for optimum health and wellness
AcuHealth honors the historical practices and treatments of Traditional Chinese Medicine while advancing the evolution of a truly comprehensive medicine for the 21st century.