If you are someone with several different health problems, acupuncture and Chinese medicine is especially useful. Your Western medicine doctor is likely to treat each of these separately, which can bring benefits but can also lead to a complicated list of tablets, advice and specialist referrals. In contrast, when I am using acupuncture I am always aiming to treat the imbalance or weakness which is the root of all your problems. When I treat this underlying cause with acupuncture it will benefit all or most of your health problems – physical and emotional. This important guiding principle in Chinese medicine is called treating the root (the Ben), as well as treating the manifestation or symptom (the Biao). It is a holistic, or whole person, approach.
To illustrate this I will describe three patients who came for treatment because they had recurrent chest infections. They are all women in their early 60s but each have a different underlying cause.
The first patient, who I will call Jane, had suffered from severe chest infections for most of her adult life. These had been more frequent and severe in the last few years and had dented her self- confidence. During this period several close friends and family members had died, often unexpectedly. After further discussions, examination of her pulses and observation of her response to the first two treatments, I was able to diagnose the root of her problem. This was a constitutional weakness in one system of her body, which in Five Element theory corresponds to the Metal Element (not the same as everyday metal!). In physical terms the Metal element relates to the respiratory system and in emotional terms it is sensitive to grief and loss. Acupuncture to strengthen her Metal element was successful in preventing further serious infections and making her emotionally stronger, so that she could once more enjoy life.
A second patient had similar chronic symptoms to Jane but I discovered that her constitutional weakness was in the system corresponding to the Earth element. This weakness caused a build-up of phlegm in the body, which was causing some joint pains as well as chest infections. In addition, the Earth element is said to be the ‘mother’ of Metal, which means that if Earth is weak it is unable to nurture its child Metal. When Metal is weak so are the lungs and respiratory system. Consequently I used acupuncture to not only directly strengthen her Lungs but also build up her Earth element, which was the root of the problem. She has started to ‘fight off’ her infections and I hope that in the longer term she will suffer from less pain in her joints.
My third patient had only been bothered by recurrent chest and throat infections for six months, but they had laid her low and interfered with both her work and her leisure. The infections lasted several weeks and as soon as she got over one she started another. She had been through a worrying period in relation to her son and daughter and also had a lot of work pressures. In this instance it was the body’s defence system (called Wei Qi in Chinese medicine) which was weakened. In terms of the Five Elements, her constitution was particularly affected by the Water element. The Water element plays an important role in overall strength of body and mind, as well as being a key factor in making and circulating Wei Qi. Her treatment involved strengthening her Water element at both the physical and emotional level and for the first few weeks she continued to require some Western medicine treatments and advice. It was reassuring for her that acupuncture could work alongside Western medicine and that I could use my conventional medical knowledge to advise her on this. She has now regained her physical health but still finds acupuncture helpful during periods of anxiety or low mood.
I have described three people with similar symptoms but very different root causes. By treating the underlying imbalance acupuncture is able to improve both physical and emotional health problems in a long-term way.