Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Chinese Medicine is a completely separate way of looking at the body from western medicine. While your acupuncturist might speak of organ systems this does not necessarily relate to your physical organ. In Chinese Medicine we look for patterns that relate to the balance of nature. This system began with observation and is the foundation. The Chinese saw the elements of nature existing not as separate but as dependent on one another. Each element supported the other to achieve harmony.

Fire created Earth
Earth created Metal
Metal created Water
Water created Wood
Wood created Fire

When one element went out of alignment it was not affected separately. Instead each element would also be impacted, the severity would depend on how long or how strong the imbalance was.

Fire melts Metal
Metal chops down Wood
Wood invades Earth
Earth invades Water
Water doses the Fire

From this simple understanding the outside world was seen as a Macrocosm and the body was seen as a microcosm. Organ systems were assigned an element and several other associations. This entire system is a community of support with checks and balances.

Organs: Heart/Small Intestine
Color: Red
Taste: Bitter
Pathogen: Heat
Season: Summer
Emotion: Joy
Sense/Tissue: Tongue and blood vessels

Organs: Spleen/Stomach
Color: Yellow
Taste: Sweet
Pathogen: Dampness
Season: Late Summer/Transitional periods between all seasons
Emotion: Worry/Over thinking
Sense/Tissue: Mouth, Muscles

Organs: Lung/Large Intestine
Color: White
Taste: Pungent
Pathogen: Dryness
Season: Fall
Emotion: Grief
Sense/Tissue: Nose, Skin and Hair

Organs: Kidney/Urinary Bladder
Color: Black
Taste: Salty
Pathogen: Cold
Season: Winter
Emotion: Fear
Sense/Tissue: Ears, Bone

Organs: Liver/Gall Bladder
Color: Green
Taste: Sour
Pathogen: Wind
Season: Spring
Emotion: Anger
Sense/Tissue: Eyes, Tendons

After looking at these associations you can see that from the Chinese Medical view point that dis-ease originates from essentially 2 places.
External factors: wind, heat, cold, dampness, dryness (caused from the outside environment or the nature of the foods consumed in excess)
Emotions: anger, joy, worry, fear, grief.

The associations of each organ system are important when observing a patient from an eastern perspective because they offer us clues. Many times the patterns of Chinese Medicine will not seem relevant. For example offered times patients with low back pain (a symptom) have Kidney Qi Deficiency where they feel low back pain and weakness that is worse in cold weather, wake up to urinate in the middle of the night, crave salty foods, and are easily frightened, they may also have hearing issues or fragile bones. So while we will address the main complaint of low back pain the patient might also notice they no longer wake up in the middle of the night to urinate, their back feels stronger, they no longer crave salty foods, are less fearful and cold weather does not bother them as much. It is also interesting to note that Kidney Qi Deficiency is not the only cause of low back pain and so each patient is treated to their individual health needs.

What is important to understand is that if the body is healthy and all organ systems are supporting one another these external factors will be able to be controlled without illness and if emotions are expressed in a healthy way in a healthy body they too will not cause dis-harmony. Basically everything you do either contributes to your health and harmony or lack there-of. The healthier you are the easier it is to bounce back when you over indulge, go through a stressful period of life etc.

Chinese Medicine is a complete system of health that was designed for the prevention of illness and includes:
Herbal Medicine
Fung Shui

Your first line of defense to maintain a healthy body is diet. While piles and piles of books have been written on proper nutrition I will say in this blog posting that it is most important to eat real food. Anything that can live longer on a shelf than you can should not be consumed. Fresh fruits, veggies that are grown locally and are in season are best to eat. Diet should reflect the season. Soups and beef stews in the fall and winter and lighter foods in the spring and summer.

Herbal Medicine is really an aspect of diet. You are familiar with adding herbs to your favorite dishes, this is a form of medicine. Chinese herbs can be added to recipes, brewed as teas or taken as tinctures or pills. Many pharmaceuticals that are used today are based off of plant materials.

Acupuncture addresses the body's energy system by inserting fine needles into acupuncture points to maintain smooth flow of blood and energy circulation helping to readjust the body when imbalances occur and most importantly keep the body healthy to fight off imbalances before they start.

Exercise from a Chinese Medical stand point is slightly different than extreme cardio and weight lifting in the west. Exercises like Tai Chi, yoga (chinese medicine's sister), and Qi Gong all help to improve circulation and flexibility of the body in a way that calms the nervous system whereas many forms of cardio exercise excite the body's fight or flight response that can tax the body long term.

Meditation helps to quiet the mind. There is a saying "clean house, clean mind." Your body can not work optimally if your thoughts are constantly swinging around like a monkey. The benefits of a clear mind are numerous like better quality of sleep, memory, concentration etc.

Fung Shui and Astrology are slightly esoteric. Both are related to your environment and how it impacts your health. Again that saying "clean house, clean mind." How can your body work best in a work or living space that is dirty or cluttered? Think back to the last time you cleaned out your closet and got rid of things you weren't using or no longer needed and could find everything again.

In the classic text Nei Jing it is written over 2000 years ago that Chinese Medicine offered a way for people to live a healthy life to the age of 100. Even back then, 2000 years ago, the concern was that people ate too much, worked too much, and the environment was too polluted. These were the tools offered to the people for a high quality life. Prevention is key in Chinese Medicine which is a very different idea than our current idea of health care today. Many people talk about being your own advocate for your health. Chinese Medicine is one way to start that is simple and inexpensive.

Sarah Zender LAc

Whole Health Acupuncture 50 Turner Ave Elk Grove Village IL 847.357.3929


  1. To stay young and healthy, bird's nest has long been consumed as a part of Chinese medicine in the East. The health promoting properties is suitable for all ages. It heal from inside beautifying and improving your overall body immunity. Regular consumption of bird's nest will purify and give you a natural health.

  2. i've been drinking bird nest soup every night (i only get the homemade kind back at home). the only reason why i drink it is because it's supposed to be good for complexion.

    i’ve been taking the store-bought kind online (e.g. www.geocities.jp/hongkong_bird_nest/index_e.htm of famous branded only of course) which is directly mailed from Hong Kong. this would be at a more affordable price.