Western medicine is "about making sure you're not sick," but in Chinese medicine, "you're trying to optimize somebody's life, so they feel as good as they can, have as much energy and joy as they can."

That's according to Senia Tuominen, whose Healing InSight practice on Grand Avenue in St. Paul offers acupuncture, nutritional counseling and herbs. Tuominen calls those "tools I can use," but she said that Chinese medicine is "not about just me going in and fixing something. There's a collaboration. We can give you tools, counsel and coach you."

"When I got into this field, I thought it was going to be lots of young people like me wanting to do alternative medicine," Tuominen said. "I couldn't believe how many seniors have come to my practice. They're not feeble, ill or weak. I call them the young at heart."

The most common ailments Tuominen treats in baby boomers? "I treat so much fatigue," Tuominen said. "It's about having the freedom to pursue what your passions are. It might be a post-retirement part-time job, getting to golf every day, playing with grandkids every week. Then throw on the stresses of an ill spouse or parent, or a child with problems — you still need to have as much energy as when you were younger. Acupuncture really helps this."

Chinese acupuncture has documented a half-dozen energy points over thousands of years. One point on the lower part of the leg, called "stomach 36" in English, has a Chinese name meaning "three miles of the foot," because stimulating that point would enable people to walk three more miles. "If a suitor came to ask for a young woman's hand, the father would look at his leg," Tuominen said. If the suitor's leg showed he was vigorously working on that acupuncture point, he could be counted on to have a long life.

Increasing energy also includes making food changes, taking herbs and — perhaps hardest of all for Western minds to adapt to — conserving some of your energy. "We have a bank account of energy. In the West, we believe in giving 110 percent. In the Eastern tradition, we caution people to use 80 percent and save 20 percent. It's a paradigm shift," Tuominen said.

Other issues include:

Digestion. "I'm surprised by how many boomers have digestive issues," Tuominen said. "It's common in the elderly, I expect to see that. But I didn't expect to see the level of colitis, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, food sensitivities and constipation in younger patients. Our guts aren't as healthy — we eat more processed food. Diet [soda] kills good bacteria. Three of the five top drugs are acid blockers — that's an epidemic. "

Arthritis. "Acupuncture can help you stay active for longer," Tuominen said. "Acupuncture helps loosen tight muscles pulling on joints, calms nerves down, decreases pain in ligaments and tendons." Acupuncture can also help the body heal after joint replacement, reducing inflammation, swelling and pain. It can improve the effectiveness of physical therapy by increasing circulation and improving range of motion.

Weight. "As most women know, metabolism takes a hit every decade," Tuominen said. Poor dietary habits in younger years will result in weight gain in later decades. "Diet becomes really important. Women and men need to eat less," Tuominen said. Still, there's more to it than the standard "Calories in = calories out" equation. "Yes, calories are important. But if the digestive fire isn't strong, even small amounts of food will put on weight," Tuominen said.

In addition, acupuncture and herbal therapies can treat hypoglycemia and food cravings that undermine attempts to reduce food intake. "We balance the body so you can do the things you need to do. There are reasons why you can't," Tuominen said.

Cosmetic facial treatment. "If we look good, we feel good. We feel confident in the world," Tuominen said. For some boomers, that means cosmetic surgery. But, she said, "a lot of people don't want to do invasive procedures or don't want to pay the money." Cosmetic facial acupuncture is an alternative that will let boomers "look as young as they can but look like themselves," Tuominen said. "You'll drop 10 years, not 30." Cosmetic acupuncture can treat fine lines, crows feet and bagginess under the eyes, Tuominen said, as well as adding more luster to the skin. In addition, she said, "It does amazing things with people's jaw lines. One client had pretty deep crows feet — we weren't able to erase those. But her jowls had sagged — that totally tightened up."

Unlike Western medicine, where a single doctor visit yields a prescription or referral, Chinese medicine works over time. The cosmetic facial treatment is a five-week protocol, with two treatments a week. "It takes five weeks for the collagen to turn over to regenerate the skin," Tuominen said.

"Imbalances in the body will show up on the skin, leaving it dull, sallow or red. Our cosmetic diagnosis evaluates both at the same time. We use herbs to correct internal imbalances, diet and exercise and acupuncture for the rest of the body as well," Tuominen said.

Acceptance of Chinese medicine has been growing to the point where some insurance providers will cover treatments. In addition, medical and health savings accounts can be used to pay for acupuncture treatment.

Tuominen said problems that have been building for years may take some time to resolve. "If you're nice and balanced, you're building up exercise and food, getting good sleep, you can lose a little one week and get it back. If you've overworked for 30 years and gotten by on six hours' sleep, it's going to take longer. A lot of people are really depleted. We have to use acupuncture and herbs to build the body back up. Then they can balance it on their own."

Read more about Chinese medicine on the Healing InSight blog: healinginsightonline.com/category/blog/.

Laura French is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer: laura@laurafrench.com.