To the Point

Acupuncturist Senia Tuominen talks about the fine art of getting needled

Senia Tuominen says she always feels a little better about life when she bites off a little more than she can chew. Which is probably why she’s just opened a brand-new Chinese medicine clinic on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and simultaneously planned a trip to bike the Alps. Senia treats all manner of disease and illness with Chinese medicine, but has a special affinity for digestive issues. Here, her thoughts on Chinese medicine.

I was going to be a female engineer; that was my identity. Then I discovered that I hated it. I ended up getting really sick from a super-stressful job I hated. I had terrible digestive problems. Reflux. Debilitating anxiety. I couldn’t even function anymore.

There are many modalities to Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is just one of the tools. Chinese medicine is the most sophisticated form of herbal medication in the world. I also do a ton of food therapy.

I prescribe bacon sometimes. Food has healing properties: it’s not just, “This one is good, this one is bad.” Any food can be good depending on the problem.

My patients feel empowered because there’s something they can do. Most doctors are trained in writing prescriptions or cutting something out. And thank God we have them! I’m not dogmatic—sometimes you need drugs or surgery.

Acupuncture is one of the best things you can do for digestive issues, because there aren’t a lot of other options. There aren’t a lot of good drugs or good food information. It’s a very Western approach to eat whatever you want and then purge yourself for a month. But that’s not good—that throws off balance, too. Did you know drinking diet soda can completely kill gut bacteria?

Acupuncture is effective. There have been thousands of studies in last 20 years. Research has shown acupuncture is super effective on migraines, knee pain, headaches, neck and back pain, nausea, PMS, and fertility. There’s not a lot of research on digestive issues, allergies, food allergies, respiratory issues, but we treat those.

You don’t have to believe in acupuncture for it to work. There is a misconception that it is woo-woo. This is a viable treatment method, rooted in science.

The most profound way we think acupuncture works is that it adjusts the connective tissue of your body. One researcher has isolated connective tissue for research; she keeps it alive and inserts needles into it. When you twist the needles, it tightens or loosens. So, for instance, if your stomach muscles are clenched all the time, they can’t relax anymore. We insert a needle and adjust it a little bit—the stomach muscle relaxes. With treatments spaced out over several weeks, your body remembers what it feels like to be relaxed.

Acupuncture also somehow works on the nervous system directly. And we don’t know how. If you put the needle in an ankle, that helps your eyes. But when you look at a functional MRI when you insert the needle, the visual cortex lights up.

When you insert needles, you are also enabling better blood flow. Sometimes, your muscles are in knots. But sometimes it’s the connective tissue that’s too tight. We call poking a little hole in the muscle “microtrauma.” It stimulates the immune system to go to the area and clear inflammation.

The most common side effect of acupuncture is to feel relaxed and happy afterward. Its primary function is that it completely relaxes your body. Any stress-related illness can respond well. Most people don’t feel a thing.

Pins and Needles: 3 Things to Know

1.  Plan for your first appointment to run two hours or more. You’re covering everything.
2. You get to nap at the end of your treatment. Most restorative nap ever.
3. 1654 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-792-5222,