In December 2009, I began my studies as a new associate of Matt Van Benschoten, Doctor of Oriental Medicine (OMD). I had read some of his articles online (www.mmvbs.com), and knew he was effectively blending Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with the latest Western medical research while prescribing Chinese herbs not just from the TCM understanding but also based on a thorough comprehension of their pharmacology. I also knew that he has spent most of his career successfully treating very sick patients. I was intrigued and felt at some point, I would study with him. Just as he was ready for a new associate, we were introduced, and my clinical practice has not been the same since.
With such a wealth of knowledge and experience
and his genuine desire to educate, I took the
opportunity to interview him.
How did your interest in Chinese Medicine
I was at UCLA in the late 1970’s on an
academic scholarship intending to become a pediatrician.
As an undergraduate, I worked in critical intensive
care at a local community hospital. What I saw
was not exactly harmonious with my idealistic
notions of medical practice, so in my third year
I left UCLA. I had an interest in Asian culture
because of close friends who were Chinese and
Korean. I bought a book on acupressure, and soon
afterward a friend came over complaining of chronic
back pain for several years. He had been to orthopedic
surgeons and chiropractors, yet he was in constant
discomfort. He walked through the door complaining
of how bad his back was hurting. I had him lie
on the living room floor and held the book in
one hand while pressing points on his back with
my thumbs. He stood up and was pain free for the
first time in 4 years. There was something very
powerful going on here, so I searched for training
programs in the US, Taiwan, and with the World
Health Organization without success. Months later
I was reading the East-West Journal and on the
last page there was a 1x1 inch ad that said “California
Acupuncture College classes starting January 1978.”
I called the number and found the head of the
UCLA Acupuncture Research Project was running
the program, Steven Rosenblatt, MD, PhD. I was
in the first graduating class out of that institution
in 1980; there were seven of us. As I was finishing
my acupuncture training, I met Professor Hong-yen
Hsu, the director of the Taiwanese FDA, the Brion
Research Institute, and the Oriental Healing Arts
Institute in Long Beach. He offered me a fellowship
to study with him for four months that turned
into four years. I ended up teaching herbal medicine
classes for him, and at three Southern California
acupuncture college campuses. I did that for 4
years from 1980-84. This is my 30th year in clinical
You have created a very unique diagnostic
method. How did it originate and can you describe
Because I was training many acupuncturists in
herbal medicine, my practice went from treating
stiff necks and sore low backs to dealing with
life threatening illnesses as my students were
referring me their worst cases. I found after
a year or two in practice that the TCM training
I had was not adequate to deal with terminal cancer,
end stage heart disease, autoimmune processes,
serious psychiatric disorders, and everyone else’s
failures. I spent a lot of time and money investigating
modern diagnostic approaches in acupuncture, electro-diagnostics
from Japan and Germany, auricular medicine from
France. I concluded that these methods were not
reproducible and were often of questionable legality.
I still had this feeling that using the acupuncture
system as a diagnostic tool was important and
valuable. Combining ideas from the electro-acupuncture
system of Voll and Nogier’s auricular medicine
I developed a technique that uses Omura’s
bi-digital O-Ring Test to measure infrared light
emission at acupuncture points using the fingertip
Shi Xuan points. I started publishing papers on
the technique in 1989 in the American Journal
of Acupuncture and began teaching the method to
acupuncturists and medical doctors in the US and
Europe during the 1990’s.
You exclusively use Chinese herbs to
treat your patients. After so many years in clinical
practice, what is it about Chinese herbs that
help you be so precise and effective in treatment?
The strength of using Chinese herbal medicine
as the primary treatment modality is that you
have a huge amount of evidence to back up your
clinical decision process. There is an encyclopedic
amount of research information on the pharmacology
of Chinese medicine available through the National
Library of Medicine online which I have been collecting
over the past 15 years. Professor Hsu was deeply
interested in the classical knowledge base of
Chinese medicine, but he insisted on it being
looked at through the lens of laboratory science
to verify what was real and what was clinically
effective. We translated the Shang Han Lun in
the morning, and interferon research in the afternoon.
My approach to using Chinese herbal medicines
is to apply evidence based data to make good clinical
decisions and get a superior clinical outcome.
The vast majority of your work with patients
involves customized Chinese herbal formulas. When
and how do you incorporate acupuncture into a
Most of my patients are the failures of other
practitioners. Patients come to me after seeing
10 or 15 other medical doctors, chiropractors,
acupuncturists and herbalists. My patients have
already been treated with classical pre-manufactured
TCM based prescriptions and have undergone long
courses of acupuncture treatment without benefit.
For that reason it is rare that I use acupuncture
in my clinical practice because most of my patients
are already pre-selected as not acupuncture responsive.
My patients have more serious and life threatening
illnesses than what the average acupuncturist
sees. Based on my knowledge of the physiology
of acupuncture, I get better results and a more
profound effect on symptoms and laboratory values
by giving herbal medicines. Part of the logistics
of doing TCM in a Western society is that many
people do not have the time or patience for long
courses of acupuncture treatment. They would prefer
to show up for a single office visit and have
someone wave a magic wand and then not have to
show up until months or years later. My approach
has been to use the acupuncture system as a diagnostic
tool to make very precise herbal prescriptions
where the patient treats themselves 4 times a
day by self administering herbal medicine. I can
see them once every three months and get results
that surpass the effects of daily acupuncture
treatment. We live in a very toxic environment;
heavy metal poisoning is almost an endemic illness
in our society. Many people simply do not tolerate
needles being put into them; 15% of the population
has nickel allergy so at least 1 out of every
10 people might react badly to acupuncture treatment.
In China, acupuncture represents about 30% of
TCM practice and about 70% of it is herbs. In
my practice, I see acupuncture as emergency medicine.
If someone comes in and they are in acute excruciating
pain, I can give them immediate relief. But the
long term solutions to those problems I see as
being more amenable to the effects of herbal medicine.
What role do Chinese Medicine practitioners
play in today’s health care environment?
Primarily we are still the medicine of last resort.
People are not coming to us with their problems
in the initial stages; they are coming to us after
they have failed with conventional treatments.
When you have positive results with those conditions
and you develop a reputation for doing so, then
you may start to see patients that see you as
the medicine of first resort, but at this point,
I think that is less than 10% of the practice.
How has our profession evolved over the
course of your career? Where do you see it heading?
I have seen the acceptance become much greater.
Thirty years ago patients used to get thrown out
of their doctors’ offices for even mentioning
the word acupuncture. Now medical doctors can
take a weekend acupuncture course. Of all alternative
modalities, acupuncture is the most accepted as
having a scientific basis. I think one of the
exciting parts of the development has to do with
the use of functional MRI studies that are extremely
compelling evidence for the benefits and the neurological
effects of acupuncture treatment. We are still
struggling with things like insurance coverage,
and with certain perceptions of Chinese medicine.
There is still work to do, most definitely.
You mentioned that when you first finished
school your knowledge at that time was inadequate
to treat the patients that you had in your clinical
practice. Do you feel that the education today
is better suited to treat more people?
I think the fundamental issue with any medical
training is that no matter how many years you
spend in school you are getting just the basics.
When clinical practice starts, there is a whole
other level of learning and understanding that
has to occur. Difficult patients are the most
valuable teachers. The really tough cases drive
your development and growth as a practitioner.
For new graduates, the world of Chinese
Medicine is so vast and varied, that finding their
own identity and direction as a practitioner can
be a challenge. You have clearly found yours.
Do you have any advice for the Acupuncturist fresh
out of school?
The evolution of practice is best dictated by
the needs of the patient rather than a personal
agenda. One of the best things about being a caucasian
doing Chinese medicine is that we can have the
flexibility to use a different approach depending
on the patient. For a delicate, very fragile,
very sensitive patient, a Japanese approach with
fine needles and small doses of herbs would be
appropriate. For a big football player with a
sports injury, a Chinese approach with thicker
needles, strong stimulation, and heavier herbal
dosing may be better.
How would you like to see your practice
develop and grow going forward?
That is something that I never really thought
about. If someone would have told me when I started
practicing that I’d be running a clinic
with seven associates, teaching in Europe, publish
over 50 papers, and collaborate with major medical
institutions, I would have thought it to be a
hallucination. You just have to show up and see