An Interview with Acupuncturist Steve Liu
On Parkinson’s Disease Treatment and Healing the Brain
Steve Liu, a licensed acupuncturist from Northern California, came to Tucson in 2001. Along with his acupuncturist wife, Wen, they opened their practice, HanLing Acupuncture Healing Center, two months after arriving in town. These days, Liu is making waves in the healthy living community with his integrative approach to Parkinson’s disease treatment, PLANtoMOVE. We asked him about his inspiration and the various aspects of his one-of-a-kind program.
How did you get started with this unique treatment program for Parkinson’s disease?
Before becoming an acupuncturist, I was an electrical engineer in San Jose with a specialty in laser and laser devices. At the time, my father was very ill with Parkinson’s disease. Despite my medical doctor mother, there were really not much we could do to help his deteriorating condition. Since his death 25 years ago, the thought of how to help Parkinson’s patients has never left me.
In 2015 I read this book, The Brain’s Way of Healing by Dr. Norman Doidge, and it changed my life. One chapter of the book described how one Parkinson’s patient “walked off” his Parkinson’s symptoms and another explained how laser light therapy “reawakens” dormant brains’ neural circuits. I spent the following two years in research, finally put a healing team together and introduced an integrative Parkinson’s treatment last May that combines photobiomodulation therapy, neuro-acupuncture therapy, movement therapy, nutrition therapy and rapid leg movement therapy. I believe that this program, named “PLANtoMOVE”, is so unique that it is one of its kind in the world.
Many people haven’t heard about this light therapy called photobiomodulation. Can you tell us more about it?
The term “photobiomodulation” is made up three words: photo, bio and modulation. Simply put, “photo” is photon particles in the light, “bio” is biological system like our body tissues and organs, and “modulation” is the associated changes in the biological system due to these photons. This term has been adopted recently to replace terms such as low level laser, low intensity light and cold laser.
This therapy using light has been studied extensively in the last 50 years in the area of pain relief, tissue repairs and wound healing. But in the last 10 years, many studies published in the application of brain tissues have shown promising results. How does it work? At the cellular level, visible red and near infrared light energy stimulates cells to generate more energy and undergo self-repair. Each cell has mitochondria, the cell’s energy factory, which perform the function of producing cellular energy called ATP, or energy molecules, and the body uses ATP to repair itself. This mechanism explains how photobiomodulation therapy can help rejuvenate brain tissues.
What do you think about the way diet affects the progression of Parkinson’s disease?
Do you know 75 percent of Parkinson’s patients have chronic constipation history? It’s a common knowledge that low-fiber, animal-based diet leads to chronic constipation, so this strongly suggests there is a connection between what we eat and the disease onset and progression. You might be surprised to learn that our gut and brain forms an axis as a two-way street. Recent research has shown that the trillions of bacteria in our gut communicate with our brain through at least five identified pathways. Many of these bacteria produce brain-altering substances that can influence the brain and central nervous system by controlling inflammation and hormone production. The fibers we eat from vegetables and fruits feed these important gut bacteria that in turn help the health of our brain. However, one study surprisingly showed milk consumption was directly linked to higher risk for having Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, one essential component of my program is to rebuild the patient’s gut and its microbiome, which now is appropriately called “the second brain”, in order to slow the progression of the disease.
What about the movement therapy component of your program? Are slow movements actually better than fast ones like aerobic exercise?
In The Brain’s Way of Healing, Doidge described a Parkinsonian man with shuffling gait who walked very slowly and very “consciously”. It took him three months to learn to get his left foot to support his body weight, then his right knee had the time to straighten out before the heel touched the ground. Such attention required an extremely focused, almost meditative concentration, as when a baby learns to walk for the first time, or when a tai chi student does the slow-motion “cat-walking”, which teaches more perfect movement by slowing down the steps. This gave me the idea of why the slow movement therapy must be part of the program to help Parkinson’s patients learn the balance and conscious movement so they can practice to prevent falling.
You also mentioned the Theracycle in your clinic that helps patients with both physical exercise effect and brain therapeutic effect. Please tell us more about that.
Let me tell you a very interesting story about the discovery of this new Theracycle Therapy that helps people with Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Jay Alberts, a biomedical engineer who specializes in movement disorders at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, went on a 50-mile tandem bicycle ride with a friend, Dr. David Heydrick, a neurologist who has Parkinson’s disease. Before their ride they were having a cup of coffee and both noticed that, due to Heydrick’s hand tremors, he could not hold his cup without spilling. But by the end of the bike ride, Heydrick could hold a coffee cup with absolutely no problem.
This surprising incident led to a study published in 2011 that showed it was the forced rapid leg movement during high speed pedaling of the tandem bicycling that helped impact brain function. The captain in the front seat, Alberts, “forced” the stoker, Heydrick, who can’t pedal fast because of his Parkinson’s disease, to pedal much faster than his ability. Alberts felt that this leg movement associated with pedaling at a rapid speed generates more nervous system messages to the brain, which causes biochemical reactions, which in turn, led to improvements in Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Based on this study, the company Theracycle later developed the motorized stationary bicycle to replace the tandem bicycle, helping Parkinson’s patients exercise to accomplish the benefit as in the study, but without a need for a tandem bicycle.
Connect with Steve Liu at at 520-878-8116 or HLAHC.com. See ad, page 7.