four pillars of health in acupunctureBy Laura Drago

Have you seen that commercial with doctors doing “non-doctor” jobs? It’s airing a lot lately in Los Angeles, where I live and practice acupuncture. It’s an ad for the heartburn drug Nexium. The implication is that, just like a doctor attempting to play the violin, regular non-doctor people are unqualified to self diagnose and treat their own health problems.

While there is some truth to this, particularly in regard to medications, I disagree that we must always defer to doctors. We can become experts on our own health.

Given the onslaught of medical information bombarding our daily lives, it’s hard to know where to focus when examining our states of health. By creating a barometer for gauging our own symptoms, we develop a clearer understanding of our physical and emotional health. We’re able to discern between feeling slightly off and feeling really off.

The four pillars of health

The following four health indicators—the building blocks of that barometer we want to create—will be familiar to anyone who has had acupuncture. Almost every acupuncturist asks about them as part of their intake and diagnostic process.

From an acupuncture perspective, these are the four pillars of health:


You really are what you eat, according to acupuncture. Dietary habits can contribute significantly to how you feel. If your body is not being properly nourished on a regular basis, it’s going to face an uphill battle when trying to heal itself.

Here are some questions to ask yourself: Do you have a big or small appetite? How often do you eat every day? What do you eat every day? Do you have cravings? If yes, when and for what? How do you feel before and after you eat?


Insomnia is rampant in our society. It is one of the most common complaints seen by acupuncturists. Some people have grown so accustomed to not sleeping well that they no longer consider it a problem worth mentioning. But difficulty falling or staying asleep can severely impact quality of life and overall health.

Ask yourself these questions: Are you able to fall asleep easily? Do you stay asleep? If you wake up, why? When? Do you feel rested when you wake up in the morning? Do you have pain, phlegm or other issues upon waking? Do you dream regularly? Are these dreams disruptive or disturbing to your sleep?


Questions about bowel movements, even within a healthcare setting, are often met with discomfort or surprise. But elimination is a critical measure of how a person’s whole system is functioning. This is why acupuncturists love talking about poop!

So be brave and ponder the following questions: How often do you have a bowel movement? What time of day does it normally occur? Is there a strong odor to your bowel movements? Are your stools loose, formed, hard, soft, discolored? Is there pus, blood or undigested food in your stool? Do you feel depleted after having a bowel movement?


Energy levels naturally shift throughout the day, the seasons, and through whatever circumstances you’re dealing with. But generally speaking, most of us fall somewhere specific on the continuum. This is an important factor to consider when analyzing physical symptoms or mood changes.

Think about these questions concerning energy level: In general, are you a high, medium or low energy person? Do you typically experience a dip in energy at any point throughout the day? What are your best and worst times of day for energy level? Is there a difference between your physical and emotional energy level? Do your emotions affect your energy positively or negatively?

What do I do with this information?

A complete picture of health is comprised of more than just these four areas. However, they are a solid place to start, a reference point that can lend perspective to how we’re feeling.

So, just start paying attention. Ask yourself the above questions on a fairly regular basis so that you notice patterns and changes when they develop. The point is not to judge your responses but rather to become an astute observer.

By being in touch with our own definitions of “normal” according to these basic building blocks, we’re able to ask better questions—of ourselves and our healthcare providers—and draw more detailed conclusions.

Doctors, while wise informants in so many cases, are not the bosses of our bodies. With trained focus on the four pillars of health, we can play more active roles in understanding and addressing our unique health concerns.

Photo by Sara Calabro

laura drago on acutakeLaura Drago maintains an acupuncture practice in Los Angeles, California. She also works with Kinesis, a mind-body wellness center in Culver City, California. Laura is committed to educating the public on the benefits, uses and modalities of Chinese medicine, and to furthering its integration into mainstream healthcare.

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