Alternative Medicine Offers Therapies To Help Reduce Stress

Listen to this Podcast Episode

“The Lion coming to get you.”

That is how Robert Koagedal describes imbalance and stress in our lives.
Koagedal is board certified to practice Chinese Medicine: acupuncture, botanical medicine, and nutrition, and holds a Master of Science degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. He has built a very successful practice in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Through acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Koagedal helps people fight a range of problems from back pain and arthritis, to infertility and weight control. He tries to get his patients to focus on finding the “off switch”; being more mindful, free, open, and in balance.

In treating patients for stress and anxiety, as well as a range of other associated ailments, Koagedal focuses on the central imbalance. He teaches people to self-reflect and ask themselves if they are fulfilling their sense of connection and purpose. “Learn to relax, tap into that deep part of your being that allows you to feel connected,” he says. “We are not put on this planet to be in a state of anxiety overwhelmed by the world.”

Nutrition is also a big part of solving medical problems for patients. Gluten, sugar, and soy are all potentially dangerous to the body in his view.

For each person, the prescription to better health is different. But Koagedal believes the basic principles of Chinese Medicine and learning to find balance can benefit all of us. More balance, less stress.

When asked what personally inspired him, Koagedal replies, “I am inspired by creative thinkers that are looking at solving some of the larger issues. We have to think bigger and think larger. Live with a vision of love and how we all come together for a beautiful world.

Podcast Transcript

Carey Pena: Hey everyone, I’m Carey Pena. A detailed news study by researchers at Stanford and Harvard, concludes that work stress can and does shorten lives. And today we’re talking about how to get healthier, both mentally and physically. Our guest has spent his entire career focusing on helping people minimize stress and optimize health. Robert Koagedal is the owner of AcuHealth. Robert, thanks for being here.

Robert Koagedal: Thank you so much Carey.

Carey Pena: You deal with trying to help people minimize stress and one of your areas of focus is helping women overcome infertility issues. So, let’s start there. Why do you think so many women are experiencing problems having children?

Robert Koagedal: Well, that in and of itself is going to take us beyond our 20 minutes but if I’m going to give you the nutshell. And especially as it relates to stress, and maybe what distinguishes what I do relative to maybe what other healthcare providers are doing is, I see it as a pivotal feature of function, and not only just your mental health, but also your biological health. That is, the full expression of balancing your hormones, blood pressure, and all of the various things that we measure, I think are dramatically altered and affected adversely in response to perceived threat. That is to being under what I call, “the lion coming to get you”.

Carey Pena: So let’s talk a little bit about what advice you can offer to people … Specifically right now, talking about managing stress. And I think that’s interesting figuring out the off switch. What is the type of advice you give to people?

Robert Koagedal: Sure. Well obviously, the individual treatments are going to be to each person and their kind of level of interest. And maybe pointed towards ways that each person in their own life as I hear their story and how they can then, maybe, develop some of these practical tools, I guess. Certainly, the term that’s as popular as yoga these days is mindfulness, right?

And mindfulness as a historical practice is pointing us towards that there are parts of our consciousness that maybe we don’t always access. And we could say those are parts of our awareness that are more open, more free, non-judgmental. And being able to tap into that part of our awareness, our consciousness, gives us access to a sort of relaxation that you can have as you go through your day. And so, mindfulness training, and there’s lots of different avenues for that, is a part of what I invite my patients in to when they’re receiving acupuncture such that that can be with headphones that I do guided mediations. Or having them listen to different things, certainly in their day-to-day lives where they’ll go through that.

And I think that we’re beginning to see that this is a key role and medically as you related to fertility, I explain to people that there is this feedback loops in the brain, what’s call your hypothalamic pituitary or adrenal axis. That’s this communication network that is really perceiving your moment-to-moment experience. And if it’s threatened, your body resources go towards fight or flight response which directs away from our secondary evolutionary strategy, which is for reproduction and digestion. First thing is to survive, right? And indeed, if we are under the duress of a perceived threat, our body’s adaptive strategies move the energy resources to the hormones for adrenaline, for cortisol elevation, and these dramatically alter the way that then, all of our other hormones are functioning.

So, the shift is to begin to see that you’re already free. The shift is to begin to see that, built into your nervous system, are all the necessary requirements for you to experience this relaxation. And sometimes it just takes some pointing it out. And when people get a little taste of it, they can build on it and grow with it. Adapt it into their lives. And I think that’s a key thing for what I try to do, right? Invite people into that. And I think medically that’s going to show up in the future, if not already, with your Harvard and fancy Stanford study.

Carey Pena: I come with the fancy studies.

Robert Koagedal: Yeah, exactly.

So those are going to point us towards some simple things. Getting back to some simplicity. There’s no rocket science in this, right? And I think it’s mostly because our culture doesn’t train us in this. It doesn’t offer these. You don’t learn this in business school. You don’t learn this in college. You don’t get in your archway education, you know?  Well actually you are getting it at some schools these days. So, it’s not necessarily a part of our cultural heritage to work to learn these skills. And it’s a learned skill that with some refinement, some practice, I think you can begin to use in your day-to-day life.

Carey Pena: Do you find a lot of resistance at first when people come in? Not everyone is used to acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. And certainly people must walk in your doors, overwhelmed with stress, anxiety. How do you even begin to unravel that in your patients?

Robert Koagedal: Well, certainly as it relates to fertility then, then you have the double whammy of that on top of them already probably being working at that point and having work stress on top of it. So, all the more reason that we have to find some type of a place for people to become centered and find that. And so, it’s just … I don’t know, it’s something you develop, and you learn to see where people are at and if they’re open to it, and if it feels like it’s something you want to explore, then yeah. I take them on a little journey.

Carey Pena: What does it feel like for you when you see someone open up and relax and …

Robert Koagedal: It’s fantastic, yeah. Absolutely. And, a lot of it is, you could call this also what I call ‘states of consciousness and healing’. And it’s my opinion, and if I read your study, I’m going to gather that it points towards that, under states of relaxation the body’s natural homeostatic processes, just simply function better. And so, what you see are all the parameters of their “symptoms”, whether its digestive complaints or they have headaches or they’re neck pain. All of those things to a certain degree start to, shall we say, self-resolve. Now, I’m not saying mindfulness is the only strategy for this but, it might the underlying thing that we need to begin from.

Robert Koagedal: Without which, acupuncture in itself might not be enough. Medication in itself, might not be enough. Telling them to ‘eat organically’ might not be enough. And until we evolve a view of who we are as human beings that wants to enrich us into understanding that our nervous system isn’t … We’re not put on this planet to be in a state of anxiety, overwhelmed by the world.

Carey Pena: Yeah. I think what you’re saying is super interesting and Shannon, our Producer, do you have a mike over there? You’re not on the mike. But he went through a really stressful time, lost a lot of weight. And really, does this concept kind of speak to you, the mindfulness Shannon? Kinda because you had to really get into the moment to figure out your life because a little bit was spinning out of control.

Shannon: Yeah. Whenever … I saw … It really affected me when I saw things oozing from my ears and I was feeling as though maybe I was not treating myself the way I deserved, and I was in turn, treating everyone else the way I felt. That’s kind of how I felt.

Carey Pena: And so much anxiety.

Shannon: Yeah. I had a lot of like, anxieties and I still kind of suffer from it, but it’s a lot better now that I’ve actually given thought to being more mindful to where I want to be in the future.

Carey Pena: And that’s really a lot of what you’re talking about Robert, right? I mean, I was interested in reading a little bit more about your background. You have a Masters degree in Chinese Medicine. You also treat complex medical complaints that a lot of times people are having troubles solving through traditional medicine. So, severe back pain, insomnia, depression. How does Chinese Medicine help in these particular cases?

Robert Koagedal: Well, Chinese Medicine is a collection of practices and includes not just acupuncture. That certainly is one of the main tools and again, in our culture, that’s how I got defined when people were trying to figure out what the hell does he do? Or, you know. So we’ll call him an acupuncturist.

Carey Pena: He sticks needles in people.

Robert Koagedal: Yeah. So there we go. But the scope of what’s called, The Five Branches of Chinese Medicine involve, certainly, acupuncture and what’s called moxibustion, which is a whole other thing. The application of nutrition as the foundation for establishing health. Certainly, all of what I just talked about. The right mindfulness, right thinking. The strategies of Tai Chi and Chi Gong. Chi Gong means breath work. Massage or what’s called acupressure. And certainly, botanical medicine application of herbs.

So that’s what I do. Those are my tools. That’s the strategies that I employ anytime someone comes in. We’re trying to utilize all of those in the process of identifying where’s their central imbalance?

Carey Pena: Do you try to … For instance, with people who come into you who are suffering from … I’d imagine though, a lot of those things are probably interrelated, insomnia and depression-

Robert Koagedal: Absolutely.

Carey Pena: Those things go hand-in-hand. Do you try to help people wean themselves off of medication?

Robert Koagedal: Certainly, there are people who come in with that objective. That is they’re … They’re coming to me because they are no longer getting the benefit from whatever it was they initially started using them for. And yeah that can include a host of medications from the … Certainly, the antidepressants all the way through sleep medications. I would also just advise your listeners too, that this is always at least with that respect and conjunction with them, consulting with their physician and kind of managing that. Because it’s not an easy thing, and sometimes involves quite a bit of both self-reflection for the patient and if they’re ready to move through those stages of understanding the deeper aspects of their mind. And understanding if they’re fulfilling their sense of connection and purpose in this world. And if they’re willing to move through those processes, then yeah, indeed we can help them on that journey.

Carey Pena: I really love that. I think that’s an important question for people to ask themselves. Are you fulfilling your sense of connection and purpose?

Robert Koagedal: Yeah.

Carey Pena: If you feel disconnected, that can so easily lead you down the road of depression.

Robert Koagedal: Absolutely. Well, the highest practice, and here, I guess, I’ll set this out to the community, the highest practice of Chinese Medicine and the deep idea is that, it’s what’s called ‘Nourishing Destiny’, and that references that the Chinese physician or the Master physician is really the tools that are meant to help the person open up to and connect with that deepest part of their being. That allows them to fulfill what they feel connected to at the deepest level.

Carey Pena: And so, we live in somewhat of a frenetic and disconnected society. How do you employ those practices for yourself? I mean, how do you maintain a happy, and practice what you preach?

Robert Koagedal: It’s a great question because I swim in the same sea, right? So, I have kids, and I run a business and all of those things come with their own challenges. I’d like to think that I certainly try to practice what I preach. But I hopefully do it humbly and without any judgment. And those are things that yeah, I’m going to … Like right now I’m in the middle of day four of a 10-day sugar cleanse. So, I had two days’ worth of a big, fat headache because I gave up caffeine and alcohol and-

Carey Pena: No wine?

Robert Koagedal: Eliminating sugar. Yeah exactly. And so, I really actually … You could say, I test some of the things out on myself that I’m going to suggest to my patients. And, this has been a good one actually, I like it.

Carey Pena: So, what brought you to this particular cleanse?

Robert Koagedal: Oh. well, I’ve explored a lot of different cleanses and I think, as I’ve tried to understand the detoxification processes in the body and maybe where they can be hampered. A lot of people come in with limited gut function, gut health, and bowel function. And I’ve tried to look for things that naturally help support the detoxification processes. I think it’s generally accepted that we’re exposed to anywhere from 50 – 80,000 new chemicals in the environment. They’re a part of things that we just swim in. And our body might need a little help on occasion. If it’s working properly, I think we get rid of most stuff. But if not, you give it a little boost now and again.

Carey Pena: So, you’re going to be on this for 10 days.

Robert Koagedal: 10 days.

Carey Pena: And that means what? No sugar?

Robert Koagedal: No sugar, yup. So it’s basically, 70% vegetables, 30% protein. And eliminating sugar.

Carey Pena: So, tell me what you feel about gluten.

Robert Koagedal: Glutens another complex topic, I’m not sure how much time we’ve got to work with on that one. But certainly, for my patients for whom, if they’re suffering with an underperforming thyroid, I think there’s enough clinical information that points that it can be, for some people, suppressive of the thyroid’s optimal functioning. And so, as an experiment, both for reducing inflammation and probably because it’s not necessarily optimal food. That is as we study and understand the seeds, which is what grains are, the seeds of plants. Those historically have been processed by our ancestors in ways in which they’re not processed today. And that’s again, why I say it’s a little more complicated on how they extrude the grains. They leave in the bad parts as opposed to, what’s called soaking, sour leavening, sprouting. Those are methods of rendering the seed less volatile. And we don’t do that anymore.

Robert Koagedal: So, you get all of kind of the bad stuff. And not as much of the good stuff and that’s where I think we’re running into that. And then you’re talking about a culture that has, for most kids since birth, they’ve been on antibiotics. They have gut dysfunction and you add on a potential plant food that can disrupt their gut. Then you have a recipe for all of the things we’re seeing as far as why people are having trouble with it.

Carey Pena: And what do you think about eliminating gluten to help with weight-loss and management?

Robert Koagedal: Yeah. I think, all of that I think as we explore … And again, this is where each person out there is going to have to answer for themselves. What does our physiology tell us about what we’re designed for, right? And certainly for me it points to us being omnivorous and our ancestors show up as requiring those foods and part of our evolutionary heritage is also consuming certain … certainly animal foods, as well as plant foods. And that if you want to minimize the refined carbohydrates, this would probably be a big winner for anyone who wants to lose weight, right? And I don’t think that’s … That’s kind of a no brainer. I mean, if you study any of the science out there, that is refined carbohydrates, sugars, right? And certainly, any kind of the processed or rancid vegetable oils. I think those alone would do you good.

Carey Pena: Tell me your thought about soy.

Robert Koagedal: Soy is another interesting product in which a lot of … The last couple of years we’ve been told that it’s a health food. And I think it’s showing up that if you look at historical Asian cultures, they used it primarily as a way for fixing nitrogen into the soil. And when they did eat it, they ate it in its fermented form, which is soy sauce and miso soup. And those are fermentation processes, render a lot of plant foods less volatile and less harmful. And so I think, soy as it’s been promoted by industry and primarily large agra business as a health food is a crock. And is primarily a source of … I have patients who bring their eight-year old daughters in who are already in early menarche and it’s because it’s a phytoestrogen.

Carey Pena: At eight years old?

Robert Koagedal: Yeah. So, they’re already starting prepubescent puberty.

Carey Pena: Wow.

Robert Koagedal: And so, soy formula and all of the various touted benefits of soy, I think, are really quite dangerous actually.

Carey Pena: What about dairy?

Robert Koagedal: Well, you’re getting to all the …  Carey’s really giving me all the good one’s here.

Now again, that’s for another thing that I will go through with each patient. I mean really, I’ll sit down. If they want to know these things, I’m going to give them my perspective on it. And I think we’re at a point where dairy now, has itself become something that is not what it used to be. And that is, animals that are tortured and put into cages and then, stripped of their outdoor living and grass, which is their natural dietary requirement, and feed soy and corn. And then, we’re expected to drink that milk, and then we have to heat it and pasteurize it, and then, homogenize it and pull the fat out. And then, drink it. I’m going to say, that’s not milk. That’s a processed food.

And so, this just gets into the controversies regarding, for example, like raw milk and those types of things. And certainly I’m an advocate for getting back to a sustainable view on farming that connects farmer to consumer to the animals in a way that respects their life and really hooks us up. There’s a movie called “Fresh” for anyone out there who wants to take a look. I think this is a great film that points us towards a new vision of how to grow our food.

Carey Pena: You know, I was curious to get your thoughts on the … I don’t know if you heard about the Nobel Peace Prize, that on October 5th, the Chinese pharmacologist, Tu Youyou, she was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of a new way to battle malaria. So this is from the New York Times, they talk about that this has renewed the debate on Chinese Medicine. Just out of curiosity, why do you think there is still such debate about Chinese Medicine and its veracity?

Robert Koagedal: I’m not sure, I didn’t understand … What was the Nobel Prize for?

Carey Pena: Well, she discovered a new way to battle malaria.

Robert Koagedal: Okay.

Carey Pena: And so, because her background is rooted in Chinese Medicine it has sort of again opened up this debate about Chinese Medicine, and there’s always been this long running battle between new medicine and old medicine, I guess. And I just wonder, why do you think it’s still controversial?

Robert Koagedal: Well obviously, I swim … I live in a little isolated world so people come to me regularly and I don’t see it as a controversy. In fact, Chinese Medicine is the most sophisticated model of the relationship between mind and body that the human beings have come up with so far. And as such, being a model of understanding how both our mind, our emotions, and our life style effect our health, I consider it to be a foundational medicine for the world and a great healing tradition.

Having said that, it doesn’t have all the answers. And therefore, we’re looking for a view that is integrative. That applies the principles of certainly science and all of the great insights that have come through allopathic medicine and they do neither, in any way, conflict with each other. But they can complement each other in a way that, I think, satisfies our view of a healthcare that’s really whole and wholistic. And appreciates all of the dimensions of being human.

Carey Pena: I know you deal with a lot of different patients who come to you for a lot of different reasons. But if you had the ability to give sort of give one premier piece of advice, health advice to people, what would it be?

Robert Koagedal: Learn to relax. Yeah. Learn to tap into that deep part of your being that allows you to feel connected in a way, if it’s certainly to your family or to your community, or literally to the cosmos as a whole. I think learning to find … I give this to people. Recently I came up with this. I liken the nervous system to the digestive system. If the digestive system is full, and you’re stuffed after Thanksgiving meal, and someone puts your favorite meal in front of you, you’re not going to enjoy it, right?

The nervous system acts similarly. We are so bombarded with information and that’s why I’m glad we didn’t go necessarily into every detail that you have to memorize out there because there’s already enough information out there. But take this principle that our nervous systems act similarly. When they’re overwhelmed with information, they themselves … it’s hard to enjoy the next moment because our nervous system is full. So, learning those strategies of how to come back to a simple awareness of your body, a simple awareness of being in the present moment. Connecting in a way that allows you to not necessarily be running off into the next one or living from the past. Those tools and strategies I think, will immensely improve your overall wellbeing and help you make choices for your life and for your health that will dramatically improve them.

Carey Pena: What is it that personally inspires you?

Robert Koagedal: Personally, I’m inspired by creative thinkers that are looking at solving some of the larger issues. And again, when we define it myself, as an acupuncturist, I think it’s inaccurate in that, if we’re swimming in a world that’s polluted. Just my sticking needles in people is not going to solve a lot of their problems. So, we have to think bigger and think larger and I’ve recently come across the creator of “Five Hour Energy”, which I don’t even know … It’s probably not a great health drink by any means. But, he came into a flow of cash that was on the order of $4 billion. And I watched a video with what he’s doing to address some of our future concerns and not just for me, but for my kids and kid’s kids. That was just so inspiring.

Robert Koagedal: So, creative thinking in which people are looking outside of the box. Not stuck in dogma, and not necessarily behaving in ways out of fear. But living with a vision for love and really for a vision for how we can all come together to really create a beautiful world.

Carey Pena: Yeah. When you are creative it just like, unleashes so many possibilities and it’s so exciting.

Robert Koagedal: And you’ve got $4 billion dollars …

Carey Pena: Yeah, $4 billion dollars.

Robert Koagedal: I’m telling you. And you’ve got …

Carey Pena: I can be super creative with $4 billion.

Robert Koagedal: Absolutely. Well, I’ll send you the video because it was just inspiring. So, things like that get me fired up.

Carey Pena: Robert, thank you.

Robert Koagedal: Thank you.

Carey Pena: I think we could talk to you for about another 40 minutes. There’s so much … Shannon’s sitting over there. I can see your brain is working. We love to talk health and fitness. People can find you on the web at And again, thank you so much for being here. And thanks everyone for listening.