Kamis, 22 November 2012

Keep Healthy Through Autumn - Five Elements Style

Autumn - letting go of Summer

Article applies to geographical areas that have seasonal variations.

As the indistinct Summer we've had gives way, nature changes to adapt to the next phase. We look forward to the beautiful Autumnal colours but also perhaps feel a hint of sadness at the departing season. In terms of the five elements, we are leaving the late Summer (Earth Element) and entering the Metal element. Although the non-human organic eco-system adjusts to this change automatically, we vary in our ability to take on the changes.

The Metal element is made up of the two meridians (energy channels) which are named the lung and large intestine channels. The two meridians cover our respiratory and elimination systems as expected from their names but also has influence at the mental and emotional level. For example, the phrase in the title "letting go" is the mental/emotional equivalent of the physical elimination of waste carried out by the large intestine. At the non-physical level, letting go is very much associated with grief and sadness too. Then our lungs are organs of breathing, taking in fresh air and exhaling carbon dioxide. The inhalation at the physical level is linked with the taking in of new ideas and being inspired by them. Interestingly, in the Eastern medical view, the lung, which is the interface boundary between the outside air and our inner tissue, is totally equivalent to the skin.

So as we slide into Autumn, there could be a sense of grief and finding it hard to accept the new energy of the season. Metal is sensitive to light, and the drawing in of the days will add to the sense of sadness. Yet as mentioned, the stunning colours can be very inspiring as can be the fresh crisp frosty days. The majority of us work in buildings and do not have the time to be more connected to the natural world. So changes of season can present physical and emotional challenges. We could be more susceptible to respiratory infections or have skin problems. Our bowels and urinary tract can play up. Emotionally we might feel down and out of sorts and perhaps have a sense of general malaise.

Being out in nature can be invigorating on clear days and can help with adapting to the energetic changes. Our diet can also help us to adjust. Eating with the seasons can really synchronise us with the natural changes. For example, it is now best to reduce consumption of tropical fruits and start with pears and apples and berries. Squashes are also plentiful and a bowl of warming pumpkin soup fits in nicely. Another positive side-effect of eating with the season is the positive ecological aspect - as supermarket demand of imported food reduce the "air miles" impact due to fuel usage pollution will also reduce. Knowing this will introduce a feel-good factor which is starting to be acknowledged as a very important part of out mental well-being. Additionally, a "top-up" or "maintenance" acupuncture treatment at the change of seasons is a good idea and will help the body and mind adjust to the coming Autumn.

The Concept of Qi in Acupuncture

We acupuncture practitioners speak of "energy" flowing through the meridians. It is worth examining this concept further. The word "energy" is translated from Eastern literature from "qi" or "ki" but does not convey the real concept of the term. A better term is "life force". Bluntly speaking, if qi does not flow in the organism then the organism is in fact not alive. It is dead! Hence the suggested term is more appropriate, as if life force does not flow, life does not exist.

So, as life force flows along the meridians that can be charted on the human body. These charts have literally existed for thousands of years. They have mainly developed as people have used trial an error methods using sharpened implements on themselves and others to try to sort out various ailments. As men have a keen ability to invent and use abstract concepts, empirically based theories have developed around acupuncture. These help them to get a deeper understanding of different points along the meridians that help improve the flow of life force. The resulting improvement in health then feeds back into the theories, refining and improving their usefulness.

The meridians have now been divided into pairs and each pair being assigned to an element. There are five elements - Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. These elements have characteristics that effect our physiological, mental and emotional state. Constitutional weakness in at least one of these elements tend to exist in us and this give rise to various pathological states when the element is in distress. The acupuncture practitioner will diagnose the blockages and imbalance in the life force and treat the relevant points on the meridians. The resulting improvement will boost the natural healing ability of the body.

There are twelve main meridians that are named after the various body organs. These are shown with element associated with each pair.


Large Intestine


Gall Bladder

Small Intestine
Triple Burner

The two other meridians are the Ren and Du and these are not related to the elements, or more accurately, their function will affect all five elements. Hence they are not listed under any particular one.

The elements are also associated with the seasons as the meridian's energy characteristics vary with the changes in the surrounding natural environment. This means that the constitutionally weak element will, if distressed, will cause the person to experience problems with their health and well-being during the seasonal change. Here are the correspondences:

Sabtu, 10 November 2012

Is Acupuncture "Only" a Placebo Effect?
What is the placebo effect?

Yes, what really is this placebo? Just consider, this effect says that we humans can get better without any real outside intervention, be it medicine, injections, surgery or whatever. Wow this is an amazing ability, I would say - wouldn't you? Many research studies have been carried out that show that this effect is a genuine human trait. But the effect is not consistent. Otherwise we would not need the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical and health industry. Just get this effect to cure all our health issues and dismantle all industries associated with medicine. No, we cannot call on this ability to cure all our ills, unfortunately. And its effectiveness is so variable and uncertain that we would not want to rely on it much. Is it really this almost totally random phenomena or is there a chance that we can harness its awesome potential?

Lets consider acupuncture

As an acupuncture practitioner for more than fifteen years, I believe that the placebo effect can be utilized in a much more methodical way. The practice of acupuncture is shrouded in mystery because Western medicine have not been able to explain it "scientifically". Yet they cannot deny its powerful ability of relieving symptoms, especially when the patient does not respond to conventional drugs or surgery. So what if acupuncture can call upon and amplify the placebo effect in a more controlled way? I believe that controlling the placebo capability is one of the ways that acupuncture works. It is a system that has been in use for over 2000 years so its methods have undergone refinement for much longer than Western medicine has. And its trials have been carried out in real world situation on a vast scale (consider the population of China alone). As a practitioner, I have been able to help hundreds of people with "intractable" conditions where normal medicine has been ineffective. Of course, conventional medical intervention is still necessary in many cases but there is room for both to cover the complete spectrum of ailments in the modern world.

Beyond the placebo

OK, there are cases where the "placebo effect" cannot explain completely how acupuncture works. Research in acupuncture is almost impossible in a way. This is because the human body is full of channels and points that are outside the accepted official ones used in acupuncture. So in tests where "sham" acupuncture is used to compare with the genuine one, the sham points used might inadvertently be one of these uncharted points that will have an effect on the energy system. Yet these studies have shown that real acupuncture gives better results than "sham" acupuncture. This shows that there is something beyond the placebo effect at work in a real acupuncture treatment. Otherwise both methods will yield similar results. And I suspect that different practitioners will get different results. So there is something happening when having an acupuncture treatment - an additional factor beyond harnessing the placebo ability of the patient. This is clearly seen where treating animals where the "patient" gets better yet is not likely to be affected by any placebo consideration.

But really, most patient's priority is in getting and feeling better, irrespective of whether it is due to the placebo or any other effect at work!