By now, most people know that acupuncture has been shown to work as well or better than conventional medicine for things like back pain and osteoarthritis of the knee. Many people have even heard about using Chinese Medicine to improve fertility. However, I am still surprised to find folks who have no idea of the depth and breadth of conditions and ailments that can be helped by Chinese Medicine.
Chinese Medicine is a complete system of medicine in the sense that it defines an internally consistent understanding of physiology (how the body works), patho-physiology (what can go wrong with the body), diagnosis (how to figure out what’s wrong) and treatment (how to fix what’s wrong). Although the language of Chinese Medicine is strange and often sounds frankly ridiculous, the concepts behind that language can be both simple and profound. It is this broad metaphoric language which accounts for the ability of Chinese Medicine to treat many issues that conventional medicine doesn’t manage as well. This descriptive language allows the practitioner of Chinese Medicine to understand a patient’s complaint at a level deeper than a lab test or an MRI would reveal. Because of this, Chinese Medicine can be very helpful in treating complaints that are vague and difficult to nail down from a conventional medicine standpoint. The following are a few examples of this:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):
IBS is a term used to describe several different digestive symptoms which could include abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. While there are some medications that can manage the symptoms of IBS, they are not considered curative, and come with the risks of side effects. From the perspective of Chinese Medicine the symptoms that categorize IBS can be grouped into very specific diagnostic categories and therefore treated specifically as well. For example, one IBS patient who has alternating loose stools and constipation that is worse with stress, accompanied by TMJ, poor appetite, PMS, depression and insomnia might be diagnosed with something we call Liver overacting on Spleen. However, another patient might have predominantly loose stools and urgency. His symptoms might be exacerbated after eating rich or spicy foods, making it difficult to go out to eat with friends. His diagnosis might be called Damp Heat in the Intestines. Both of these patients would receive different acupuncture treatments and different herbal formulas. In my experience, once we determine the correct diagnosis, IBS is often cured or improved to such a level that it becomes only a minor distraction.
For some women, the cessation of menstrual cycles is no big deal. For others, they become overwhelmed with a cascade of symptoms that disrupt daily functioning. Hot flashes, anxiety, and insomnia can combine to make a woman feel as though she is losing her mind. With the controversy surrounding hormone replacement, Chinese Medicine offers a safe and usually effective alternative treatment. Of course Chinese Medicine may not solve the problem overnight, but over 1-2 months, most women find their symptoms have become very manageable. Again, each woman is assessed individually and acupuncture, herbs, diet and lifestyle suggestions are all tailored to her particular situation.
Emotional Issues / Stress:
Chinese Medicine is truly a holistic medicine. In fact, there is very little differentiation in Chinese Medical Theory between physical and emotional problems. When reading about a particular diagnostic category, for example, you might see “poor appetite, fatigue, bruises easily, shortness of breath, depressed mood.” When treating folks for any emotional upset, I am always interested in what kinds of physical issues they have, as that helps me determine how to diagnose the depression, anxiety, ADHD or mania appropriately. Studies have shown acupuncture to be as effective as anti-depressants in treating moderate depression. Acupuncture can have a profound effect on reducing mental stress. Often after only one visit, people say things like, “I just don’t react to the little things like I used to.”
Modern medicine is still working on exactly what causes this painful and debilitating illness. While curative treatment may very well be on the horizon, treatments often involve experimentation with many different pharmaceuticals. Acupuncture has been shown to be especially helpful in lessening the pain of fibromyalgia. It can also help treat the fatigue and memory problems that sometimes accompany the disease.
In each of the above cases, different patients will exhibit different signs and symptoms, and will therefore require different treatment strategies. There is no “one size fits all” in Chinese Medicine. That individualized therapy is what makes Chinese Medicine so fascinating. Diagnosis and treatment can be profoundly simple or mind-bendingly complex. We practitioners don’t always get it right the first time. But when we do, this medicine appears to work miracles.