April 5, 2009 -- Like many 14-month-old babies, Ashley Goldstein looks like an active, happy and healthy child. But until recently, she was fighting one infection after another, and struggling with athsma and allergies.
"Ashley's been on medication since she was 2 weeks old. She was on five different medications. I wasn't comfortable with all the medications; she's so young and her body wasn't fighting it off. I felt like there has to be another alternative." says Danielle Goldstein, 33, Ashley's mother.
So Danielle Goldstein started discussing alternative medicine with her husband Adam Goldstein, 31, as a treatment option for their child. After doing extensive research and talking with medical experts, Danielle decided to bring her baby in for treatment at the Whole Person Health Clinic in Stoughton, Mass.
Licensed acupuncturist Fae Kont Je-Gibbs has been treating Ashley regularly for the past two months. She uses a combination of natural oils, tiny touching needles and tuning forks associated with sound healing.
Gibbs gently prodded and poked Ashley for half an hour without piercing her skin. Ashley's mom says the baby is finally sleeping through the night. She's convinced these treatments have helped.
"It isn't concrete. It's not like a broken bone and you can say you set it, you fix it, it's done," Danielle Goldstein said. "You have to kind of believe in it and trust it and then wait for the concrete outcome."
Acupuncture is more of a medical art than a science, based on the idea that energy flows through the body through a series of known pressure points.
Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital recently used high tech magnetic resonance imaging to study the brain's response during acupuncture. They found a very interesting pattern of brain areas that are activated by acupuncture: a pattern similar to a brain at rest.
In other words, the brain's response to pain seems to be switched off during acupuncture.
But is this scientific proof that acupuncture actually works?
"I wouldn't quite say we're there yet. There's much more to be done," said Dr. Bruce Rosen, a Harvard-trained doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
In China, acupuncture has been around for at least 5,000 years. In this country, it's still relatively new, but studies show a growing number of Americans of all ages are seeking treatment.
More than 3 million adults and 150,000 children have used acupuncture for ailments like headaches, back and neck pain, anxiety and ADHD over the past year, according to the 2008 report published by the National Center for Health and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.
The Children's Hospital in Minneapolis runs the nation's largest and oldest pediatric acupuncture center.
"We see a lot of children with migraine headaches, anxiety and depression, "says Dr. George Kramer. But he also adds, "Acupunture doesn't work on everyone just like medicine don't work on everybody."
Molly Austin White, 16, has had central re-occurring pain syndrome through the body for several years and no drugs seem to be working.
"We've seen specialist after specialist for certain parts of her body, her heart, her intestinal system, her stomach joints. All different doctors and no one can put it together," said Molly's mother, Jane Austin, 47.
"We use some meridian points to help stimulate her body energy system, some points in the ankle and shin on both sides," Kramer said. "We also treat a few points in the stomach to gather and point the energy where the healing needs to take place."
Molly said that once she started the treatments, a lot of her pain started to go away.
"It's just been helping my body a lot," she said.
Brooke Hamer, 15, was suicidal when her parents first brought her to the pediatric acupuncture clinic, as a last resort. Kramer used acupuncture to treat various acupressure points on her knees and head to stimulate her healing and balancing her nervous system Almost immediately, they noticed an improvement. "It's helped me change the way I function, but I won't say it's a life changer, it's in conjucntion with other things I do in my life," Brooke said.
"After her first acupuncture treatment, she went from being quite depressed to bouncing off the table, smiling and laughing, it was really dramatic and she was thrilled and so was mom," Kramer said.
"It's like havng my daughter back, which is really exciting. She's physically, mentally not the same person," said Brooke's mother, Heidi Losinski Hamer, 47.
While acupuncture may not be right for every child, for a growing number of parents, this ancient Chinese medicine has become a lifeline.