Understanding the causes of our ill health

When we are unwell, most of us want to know why. Why me? Why now? Very often there are a number of factors that have come together to cause the health problem. Usually, these include both physical and emotional reasons. Understanding these causes can sometimes help us to recover quicker or prevent further trouble.

Chinese medicine always looks for a range of causes. Firstly, it looks both for the immediate cause and for any underlying weakness or imbalance that allows the body to ‘go down’ with it. Take infections, for example. The immediate cause of a bad chest infection is usually a particular virus or bacterium that has invaded the body. However, some people never seem to get more than a mild cold, whereas others get frequent and more severe infections. Acupuncture based on Chinese medicine would look for and treat the underlying weakness, as well as treating the infection itself. This may be a constitutional weakness of the lungs, or may be due to the lung system being damaged by smoking, working out in the cold and damp, or getting affected by other imbalances in the body.  Sometimes, this understanding leads to important self-help, such as wearing better outdoor clothes or adjusting what we eat.

Secondly, Chinese medicine does not put physical and emotional upsets into separate categories and is very open to taking both into account. Recently, one of my patients developed a severe red, itchy, swollen rash on her face and neck. She is quite sensitive to drugs and this came on after starting a course of anti-inflammatory tablets, so the rash was treated as an allergic reaction. Her doctor prescribed first anti-histamine and then steroid tablets. Everyone was surprised how severe it was. In Chinese medicine, drug reactions are often linked to the Liver meridian (not quite the same as the Western idea of liver) and the emotion that is linked to this meridian system is anger. This patient was not normally angry but told me that her workplace stress and overwork had recently been making her feel very irritated and resentful. Talking about it, led to her realising that she had considerable pent up anger at the situation she and her colleagues were being put in. Anger usually causes heat in the body (‘hot under the collar’, ‘hot-tempered’) and liver problems are also often associated with itching. So all these causes, the drug reaction and the emotional upset, had come together to produce the reaction in her skin. This made a lot of sense to her and she thought that maybe it was some sort of safety valve that ‘let it all out’.  By clearing heat and itching and moving the stuck Qi (energy) acupuncture was able to treat both the physical and emotional aspects. In fact, the anger dissipated very quickly, the enforced time off work gave her some much needed rest, and the rash slowly started to settle down. She is now determined to try harder to resist the pressure to overwork and to be aware of any build-up of resentment.

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