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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Half-full or half-baked? For believers, the cups runneth over

Half-full or half-baked? For believers, the cups runneth over


Half-full or half-baked? For believers, the cups runneth over.

In London it will set you back about $145 per session. In New York, it's as much

as $65 per hour, and in Melbourne it's $63.

In Phnom Penh, however, the going rate for "cupping" therapy is still just

5,000 riel.

From its centuries-old origins in China, the colorful tradition of cupping has spread

throughout the world and has believers from motodops to movie stars touting its alleged

healing prowess.

Cupping, or joop khyol - "pumping wind"- as it is commonly known in Khmer,

drew headlines in 2004 when Academy Award winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow appeared

at a film premier in a low-backed dress that revealed the telltale circular welts

left from a good round of cupping treatment.

"I have been a big fan of Chinese medicine for a long time because it works

and it's thousands of years old," Paltrow told reporters at the time.

It's a simple, and sometimes dangerous procedure: taking a glass in one hand, a flame

in the other, a therapist will heat a small glass cup or jar with flame or blowtorch.

The heated vial is applied to the skin, alongside others already sucking at the patient's

flesh. As the jar cools, skin and muscle are drawn inside, leaving large red welts

and tender flesh for nearly a week.

Traditional practitioners say the methods are used to cure a variety of symptoms.

From dizziness, fever and diarrhea, to vomiting, sleeplessness and the common cold-all

these ailments are believed to be symptoms of an excess of "wind" in the

body known as krun khyol or wind illness.

Coin of the realm?

In Cambodia another, similar method known as coining is also used either separately

or before cupping to draw out this "excess wind" and "bad toxins"

from the body. A coin or blunt metal object is scrapped across the skin in rows,

creating large red welts that, like the round cupping marks, are believed to be signs

of excess wind escaping from the body.

Dr Reid Sheftall, director of the American Medical Center, said that there is no

medical evidence that cupping or coining cure cancer, cellulite or any of the range

of problems they are rumored to heal.

Medically, however, there are some benefits that people may not understand. For a

patient suffering from fever, both cupping and coining can lower core body temperature,

said Sheftall.

According to Sheftall, a MIT physics graduate and brain surgeon, blood rushes to

the skin's surface to be cooled, turning the skin red, most notably in the face and

neck. The cooled blood is then re-circulated throughout the body, cooling it down.

"Coining and cupping reroutes the blood flow by opening up arterials near the

skin surface," Sheftall said, "cooling the blood and in turn, it can, reduce


What may be happening is the placebo effect, Sheftall said.

Citing American medical trials, Sheftall said around 18 percent of patients will

show improvement simply from their belief in the treatment, even if it's fake.

Locally, the belief in both treatments is intense.

Nuon Kann, 65, of Takeo province is coined three to four times per month, and added

that, "if she's not coined, she's not cured."

She added that the more severe her khyol is, the worse the red marks are after coining.

Khmer doctor Ros Vorn, a general practitioner at Preah Kossamak hospital warned that

after coining, patients should not bathe because it could result in infection via

perspiration ducts. Vorn advises patients that coining can turn the skin purple and

cause problems with blood veins.

Local cuppers and coiners say they can earn between 10,000 to 15,000 riel per day,

at an average price of 5,000 riel for either treatment. Customers come from all ages

and social groups, one local practitioner told the Post.



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