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Chris Tran, co-owner of NOLA Acupuncture and Wellness (3712 MacArthur Blvd., Suite 208, 362-8020; earned his master's degree in Chinese Medicine at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego. Here, he explains the unique benefits acupuncture offers toward detoxification, immune support and recovery from illness.

What are the principles of acupuncture? How does it work?

Acupuncture originated in China about 2,300 to 2,500 years ago. Its main intent is to maintain the body's balance between the yin and the yang by using a holistic approach. Acupuncture relies on the ability to control the chi, which is vital energy that flows through the body, by placing needles along different channels called meridians. There are about 400 points on the body, and we pick and choose which to use, depending on the patient's needs. Instead of prescribing a pharmaceutical ... we work with the patient to develop a total treatment plan.

How many sessions does it take to see improvement of your condition? Can you be treated with only one visit?

It really depends on the nature and location of the issue. If you're seeking treatment because of fatigue or stress, you may only need one treatment. Acute pain issues, like tennis elbow, usually take about two or three visits to resolve completely, and more chronic pains, like migraines, might take 12 sessions or more. I have one patient who was considered paralyzed by her doctors after she sustained a fall in her bathroom. She was bedridden for a year. After receiving acupuncture once a week for two months, she's now walking with the help of a walker. She is regaining strength through physical therapy and ongoing acupuncture treatments, and within another two months, she should be walking on her own.

What kinds of ailments can you treat with acupuncture?

The list goes on and on. Acupuncture can be used to treat fatigue, stress and specific pain, as well as help someone quit smoking. It is being used for cancer therapy, to assist with weight loss, cardiovascular issues and respiratory problems like asthma and chronic colds. It has been successful in treating mental and emotional problems, gynecological problems, pregnancy and fertility issues, incontinence, kidney stones, skin diseases, even facial rejuvenation. Much of what is possible depends on the experience of the practitioner.

Can healthy people benefit from acupuncture, or is it more for people with a specific problem?

People with overall good health can benefit (from acupuncture). I have healthy patients come in for preemptive immune support — for example, they suffer from a minor issue, like a sinus cold, and choose to eradicate it before it becomes a serious problem.

How much does acupuncture cost? Do health insurance plans cover it?

Out of pocket, it's around $95 per treatment, but many main health insurance plans cover it. On Saturdays, we host a community clinic, where we offer treatments for just $40.

Is there anybody who should not get acupuncture?

My youngest patient was 3 months old; my oldest was 84 years old. I haven't found someone unable to benefit from acupuncture, but I'll let you know if I do.

What does it feel like? How long do the needles stay in?

Acupuncture needles are hair-thin — you could fit anywhere from 30 to 40 inside a hypodermic needle. If you're sensitive, you might feel something like a mosquito bite upon insertion. At most, there is a dull, achy sensation. That's it. Depending on the patient, we leave the needles in anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes.

Can acupuncture help the body detoxify from environmental pollutants and dietary toxins like preservatives, hormones and artificial coloring?

For that type of treatment, we focus on the liver and place the needle along that channel, since the liver detoxifies. Often, we will combine the acupuncture with a treatment of Chinese herbs — which are tasteless — to help amplify the process. I've received feedback from patients about actual smells coming off their skin, after which they feel much better and healthier.

How would you compare acupuncture to other forms of treatment a patient might consider?

It's definitely a more holistic, integrative approach. Compared to, say, chiropractic medicine, it's not as invasive and not as difficult on the body. We have a medical doctor on staff, in the event that we are unable to successfully treat a patient and need to forward them on for more testing ... but that has yet to happen.