Traditional medicine was designed to maintain health through balance. The term balance may seem obscure since many of us grew up with biomedical language. From that perspective, however, if blood is not moving, one may have experience pain or depression. This is an example of imbalance.
The condition of internal organs reflect the body’s ability to cope with changes, like trauma or external pathogens. Well nourished organs, exercise, and positive outlook require work. Without that effort, the body is highly susceptible to disease and loss of function.
For instance, if you feel tired all of the time, especially in the afternoon, this may be a reflection of your stomach, spleen, and pancreas. Look at your tongue in good lighting. Does it looked scalloped from teeth marks? According to TCM, this is a manifestation of Spleen Qi Deficiency. The primary etiology includes excessive worry and consuming dairy, fried foods, unhealthy grains, and sweets. People who worry and consume these foods may not be tired all of the time. Their tongue will [usually] not be swollen.
More serious unresolved digestive issues often lead to inflammation, which can adversely affect the nervous system. This is the basis for inflammatory type pain and many auto-immune diseases like fibromyalgia, arthritis, and lupus. See my page on Nutrition and Food Facts.
A balanced body evenly distributes heat and fluid. As we age, our fluids begin to dry. As this yin aspect depletes, yang (heat) takes it place. During the day (yang), this imbalance is not as pronounced as night (yin). The deficient yin cannot control the yang. The excess heat may cause the mind to be busy or body uncomfortable. During sleep, when the yin aspect has contracted inward, the excess yang pushes through the interstitial tissues and creates sweat. This sweat causes further yin deficiency.
In men, this usually manifests as Kidney Yin deficiency; low back ache, sore knees, night sweats, and distrust. In women, this usually manifests as Liver Blood deficiency; insomnia, hot flashes, headaches, dry itchy skin, and anger.
Most biomedical disease can be reframed and treated based on TCM theory. The major difference is that TCM aims to resolve disease versus simply masking the symptoms. TCM has a holistic grasp on psyche and soma while Western medicine is just starting to develop those theories. Western medicine continually develops theories because they have so many gaps in their complex and divided systems. Unlike separate Western medical theories, TCM theories mesh together in a brilliant way, resulting in a complete system of correspondence.
For example, I have a client biomedically diagnosed with migraines. The Western drugs were not helping and causing side-effects of irritability, insomnia, and itchy skin. Her dermatologist prescribed a cream that did not helping but she started getting rashes. She was told this was stress. She is an Amy officer and single parent. She was concerned about her recent anxiety attacks and fatigue. She did not want to lose her clearance, so she came to seek my help.
Her tongue was pale, the inside curve blue, and the edges swollen. The tip of her tongue was red; there was no coat on the front half while the back was a thin yellow. Her sublingual veins are distended the full length. I did not need to feel her pulse. Her etiology, mechanisms, and treatment were clear. After years of visits and suffering, her primary care provider, dermatologist, gynecologist, and nutritionist were unable to obtain a complete picture. I figured it out in five minutes, but I can’t take credit.
TCM theories of Yin/Yang, eight principles, channel, and five elements make my job easy. The challenge is bridging the language so that she understands her diagnosis within the biomedical context to which she is accustomed.
She never had migraines. She had reoccurring sinus pressure. I had her test this theory by taking Advil Cold and Sinus until the herbs and dietary changes corrected her blood deficiency and blood stasis. The medication for migraines taxed her liver causing dryness and heat. The dryness and heat caused irritability and heart heat which accounted for her busy mind and insomnia. Already deficient, her blood was now toxic which caused anxiety, itchy skin and rashes. She had heat in the Liver system, but cold in her Spleen system. The Spleen system is responsible for moving and transforming fluids. The TCM treatment had the tertiary effect of also correcting morning diarrhea, recurrent yeast infections, improving her vision, and reversing recent hair loss.
Five Element Organ Theory
Five Element theory is a simple system that is easy to learn if you have a couple years. I teach Five Elements using characters from The Wizard of Oz. There is an idea that each of us tends towards specific elements. For instance, I identify with the Wood element, which consists of the Liver and Gallbladder. I am highly creative and easily frustrated. Like the wicked witch of the the East, I am also from the East which coincides with the Wood Element. So does the color green and the number 8. I was born August 8th. Both my names have 8 digits. The direction of Liver is up and out like a tree. If I had a broom stick, I would fly up and out when I go after Dorothy.
Like the Fire element, Dorothy is quite joyful, is partial to red, and has very southern mannerisms. The Fire element is nourished by the Wood element. The organ pair is the Heart and Pericardium. No wonder she has bad dreams. The Heart opens to the tongue and Dorothy can give a verbal lashing. Don’t underestimate passion for her friends. You see what happened when I tried to burn the Scare Crow.
The Scare Crow represents the Earth element. He is yellow, sings often, and epitomizes pensiveness. Dampness is a problem for the Earth element Stomach and Spleen. If the Scare Crow were a girl, he would crave sweets and be susceptible to yeast infections. Stop eating milk and cheese Scare Crow! That is no way to nourish your Metal.
The Metal element is susceptible to dryness, especially in the autumn when the Tin Man got left without oil. He was too busy crying. Sadness and grief are the emotions of the Lung and Large Intestine. Wipe your nose and have a pear. Be strong for the Lion.
The Water element is represented by the Lion who is fearful and groans often. He has heightened hearing and hibernates in winter. He is always snacking on salty food, which affects his associated organs; Kidney and Urinary Bladder.
Yin-Yang theory explains naturaly occuring cycles. The tai chi symbol illustrates the cycles of night into day, winter to summer, human development, and menstral phases. Like the symbol suggests, there is seed of yang within yin and a seed of yin within yang. It represents the trasnformatic movement from Yin to Yang. Yin and Yang represent supreme opposites without ultimate ends because one cannot exist without the other. Yin-Yang theory provides the underpinnings for the four states of internal imbalance used frequiently in Eight Principle theory.
Eight Principle Theory
Eight Principles theory is paramount for diagnosis and treatment. Without this theory, one cannot thoroughly understand, explain, or treat on a biomedical level. It explains interior versus exterior etiology; the combinations and quality of hot and cold imbalances; the range of full or empty conditions, and the varying levels of Yin-Yang. This theory helps to differentiate the quality of Qi, Blood, and fluids in the body. It provides the diagnostic framework to toggle from organ to channel theory.
I treat most internal medical challenges with Chinese Herbal formulas, acupuncture, and dietary recommendations. Untreated organ imbalances can lead to more serious psycho emotional challenges like depression, anxiety, and mania. Depression often has a physical etiology that stems from past physical trauma. In TCM, there is no separation of mind and body, but diagnosis and treatment require a comprehensive knowledge of all TCM systems. Go to my Mental Health page for more information.