By AFEA member Nicky Douglas
Diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine identifies an energy imbalance within an individual. Irrespective of the disease or the symptom, once we can identify and correct the cause of the imbalance the symptoms will disappear. Unlike a Western doctor we do not seek to diagnose and treat the manifest physical disease but discover the imbalance that has given rise to the symptoms. Labelling the symptoms does not tell us the cause.
However, it is helpful for our patients to understand how acupuncture can help them with the symptoms which they might be struggling with and so this section seeks to explain some common syndromes and how acupuncture will approach a cure. This list is not exhaustive. For the Western descriptions we have used NHS definitions and would refer people to this site. For more information on acupuncture ….
Ancient Chinese philosophy deemed that life had to be lived in accordance with the principles of Nature, always moving and flowing, from day to night, from activity to rest, from joy to sadness, from yang to yin. This flow unimpeded would bring fulfilment, happiness and health to the body, mind and spirit.
In the West we tend to think that if a patient is deficient in a substance we can cure them by giving doses of the substances concerned: levothyroxine, to raise thyroxine levels, insulin for diabetes, and we give iron for anemia. We take vitamins and minerals when we feel tired and depleted. However, these substitutes do not correct the deficiency permanently – they just keep the body going.
Acupuncture aims to correct the cause of the deficiency, thus enabling the body to either produce the necessary substance itself or enabling it to better extract and process what it requires from a normal balanced diet. Like any system seeking to balance something as complex as the human body it is successful in some circumstances but not in others.
An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, just in front of the windpipe (trachea). One of its main functions is to produce hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism (the process that turns food into energy).
Many of the body’s functions slow down when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of these hormones so common signs of an underactive thyroid are tiredness, weight gain and feeling depressed, being sensitive to the cold, muscle aches and dry hair and skin.
Both men and women can have an underactive thyroid, although it’s more common in women. Children can also develop an underactive thyroid and some babies are born with it. Most cases are caused either by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland and damaging it, or by damage to the thyroid that occurs during some treatments for an overactive thyroid.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
The thyroid is found at the front of the neck. It produces hormones that affect things such as your heart rate and body temperature. Extra levels of these hormones can cause unpleasant and potentially serious problems including nervousness and irritability, mood swings, insomnia, tiredness and weakness, sensitivity to heat, heart palpitations, twitching or trembling and weight loss.
An overactive thyroid can affect anyone, but it’s about 10 times more common in women than men and it typically starts between 20 and 40 years of age. There are a number of reasons why the thyroid can become overactive but the primary cause is Graves’ disease, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the thyroid.
The main treatments are medication that stops your thyroid producing too much of the thyroid hormones, radioiodine treatment – where radiation is used to damage your thyroid, reducing its ability to produce thyroid hormones, surgery to remove some or all of your thyroid, so that it no longer produces thyroid hormones
How Acupuncture can help
In the original treatise describing Five Elements Acupuncture it is called a system of internal medicine. So many of the thyroid symptoms we manifest today are a function of the internal systems of the body malfunctioning, perhaps as a result of physical, mental or emotional stress, or environmental factors like pollution in the atmosphere and in our food.
The Acupuncturist seeks to prevent the symptoms arising in the first place by identifying the underlying cause of an imbalance and to restore harmony in the patient at the level of mind, body and spirit before a crucial system fails and so.
As with any condition the imbalance may be in any one of the five elements. The endocrine system in the body is supported and transported by the water element which is responsible for all flow, but equally it could stem from a deficiency in the earth element which is responsible for the transformation and transportation of energy from food, or the wood element which organises and executes the plan.
If by the time the symptoms present there is already some damage to a sensitive organ, treatment can still be effective in alleviating the symptoms and supporting the patient in their lives but a cure may be harder to achieve.
The amount of sugar in the blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas (a gland behind the stomach). Diabetes is a condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high because the person’s insulin production is compromised.
There are 2 main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin and type 2 diabetes where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin. Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1. In the UK, around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2.
Many more people have blood sugar levels above the normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes. This is sometimes known as pre-diabetes and increases the risk of full-blown diabetes developing. It’s very important for diabetes to be diagnosed as early as possible because it will get progressively worse if left untreated and other secondary symptoms can occur too.
The main symptoms of diabetes include feeling very thirsty, peeing more frequently than usual, particularly at night, feeling very tired, weight loss and loss of muscle bulk, cuts or wounds that heal slowly, blurred vision.
How acupuncture can help
It is recognized that Type 2 diabetes can be avoided, and to some extent managed, through healthy eating, regular exercise and achieving a healthy body weight. In the first instance acupuncture can help with supporting the patient make better choices about their diet and lifestyle: as the patient becomes more harmonious in mind, body and spirit they will be better able to listen to the natural rhythms of their body and find a more balanced perspective on their lifestyle.
There is no one element specifically associated with the production of insulin – all the elements are involved in the production and flow around the body, but the water element is especially important in the flow of hormones around the body. Drinking plenty of water is essential for the proper functioning of the body and perhaps why extreme thirst is associate with diabetes. However, the primary deficiency or excess might equally be in the wood, or earth or metal elements all of which have to be balanced for the proper working of the delicate endocrinal system which governs everything from our digestion to our emotional well being.