While there are similarities between Eastern and Western philosophies when it comes to Multiple Sclerosis (MS), there are many differences as well. Often, Eastern and Western medicine have the same thoughts, but are using different languages to express these ideas.
One similarity is that there is a genetic and environmental component to MS. For instance, MS is more common in individuals who grew up in northern areas, suggesting that there may be a relation to cold weather. The question of why some people are afflicted with MS and others are not (even amongst family members!), or why the same disease has so many different trajectories for different people, can be explained by TCM philosophy.
Part of TCM diagnosis is diagnosing one’s constitution. In TCM, the “constitution” refers to the body’s general state BEFORE being affected by disease. By knowing, understanding, and honoring your own constitution, you can know what illnesses to expect and how to combat these illnesses. The term ‘constitution’ can be further broken down into one’s innate constitution, which is one’s genes that are given by the parents, and one’s acquired constitution, which is affected by environment, diet, and emotions. See my previous blog titled, ’Why are identical twins so different?’ to learn more about the theory of constitutions.
Diseases like MS are different for so many people, even those who are from the same family and have similar genes, mostly because of one’s acquired constitution. This means that by changing your acquired constitution (through diet, emotions, and environment), YOU have the power to change the path of a disease! You no longer have to fall victim to a disease and believe, “Well, this is just how it is”.
Both Chinese and Western medicine believe that MS has an emotional component. As I previously mentioned, emotions are part of the acquired constitution. The Chinese and Western philosophies have a, “What comes first — The chicken or the egg?!” phenomenon occurring. Chinese medicine believes that MS originates from a combination of spiritual and emotional factors. The “trigger” for the disease can be an infectious disease or high fever, but this is only after someone has been weakened by an emotional imbalance. If the emotions are not corrected, there will be continuous disruption and weakening of the body. Therefore, Chinese medicine believes that it is imperative to heal the emotions and spirit in conjunction with treating the physical symptoms of MS. Western medicine believes that the emotions occur only after a person is diagnosed with the disease as a reaction to their diagnosis. In this way, TCM places the human experience above genetics and biology as causative factors, while accepting that there are genetics and biology at play as well.
It is also important to note that TCM does not require a formal diagnosis of a Western disease. While Western medicine spends a lot of time, money, and effort in diagnostic tests, TCM treats what comes into the office. As a TCM practitioner, I do not require a formal Western diagnosis. This is important to remember because there is often a lag time in Western medicine where symptoms become visible and treatment actually begins. This period of ‘lag time’ can last anywhere from days, weeks, months, or even years.
So, what do we do? TCM treatments aim to strengthen the body and rebalance the body’s internal environment. This can be done through diet, herbs, and lifestyle changes, all of which are included within TCM modalities. Acupuncture is used in order to improve circulation to organs, muscles, and tissues. In addition, underlying spiritual and emotional distresses are worked on in each session. Since there is so much variety between each person’s experience, treatments are individualized based on each person’s needs. Regular treatment may last from anywhere between two months and two years, depending on each individual presentation of illness. This includes taking Chinese herbal formulas daily and acupuncture treatments three to four times per month (and more frequently after flareups of MS symptoms). A scalp microsystem, called Zhu’s Scalp, has been shown to be very effective for patients with MS or MS-like symptoms.
Once the acute flareup of symptoms are under control, MS symptoms can be controlled by consistent use of Chinese herbal formulas. In order for Chinese herbal formulas to be successful, patient compliance is a must! Although this requires the patient’s commitment, the benefits outweigh the daily difficulties that may be experienced through those with MS. Additionally, dietary therapy and lifestyle modifications will be recommended. These changes will be individually modified to meet the needs of each patient.
Traditional Chinese Medicine requires participation from patients. While the practitioner works very hard to restore wellness in each patient, the practitioner also gives the patient “homework” to do during or outside of treatments. This helps hand the power of one’s health back to the patient. The list below can help acupuncturists be more effective during treatment:
While using Zhu’s Scalp, it is most effective when the affected body part attempts to participate in the task of difficulty. For example, if a patient with MS has difficulty with walking, then the patient will be assisted and asked to attempt to walk while steadied by others. Often, the practitioner will stimulate the needles while the patient is attempting to make their affected body part more functional.
Additionally, the practitioner may assign the patient or the patient’s family with acupuncture points to press (a technique known as ‘acupressure’) in between treatment sessions. The practitioner will demonstrate where the points are located and may mark the area.
- Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbal medicine can have a powerful impact on physiological functioning of the body. In many instances, Chinese herbal medicine can be a proper substitute for drugs with fewer side effects and a broader range of positive impact on the body. Many of these herbs are simply food substances (licorice, yams, and goji berries, just to name a few). Although Chinese herbs are immensely powerful, they do not have a 100 percent success rate. One of the most fundamental reasons of why herbs are not always successful is because of poor patient compliance. In order to truly experience the power of Chinese herbal medicine, a patient MUST be compliant with taking the herbs at the assigned dosage.
- Dietary Changes
Dietary changes and nutritional supplements may help combat disease processes and alleviate symptoms. Just by adding and taking things out of the diet, many patients with MS have been able to begin to eliminate symptoms, or even become asymptomatic! As is with all of Chinese medicine, these dietary and supplemental recommendations will be individualized based on the specific constitution of the individual and the presentation of illness.
Remaining physically and mentally active is an important part to regaining and maintaining health. Tai Ji exercises are able to enhance balance, strength, and emotional stability. Swimming and yoga increase range of motion, maintain nervous system function, and increase muscular strength while eliminating spasms.
Eliminating harmful activities is an essential step towards wellness. These activities may include habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, insufficient sleep, social isolation, toxic environments and harmful relationships. By eliminating these activities, you will regain more power and move towards a healthier you!
Click here to watch a testimonial about a patient with MS as he was treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine:
Vickers, Edythe, and Dharmananda, Subhuti. “Traditional Chinese Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis.” Institute for Traditional Medicine. N.p., July 1996. Web. 08 Dec. 2015. <http://www.itmonline.org/arts/ms&tcm.htm>.
Dharmananda, Subhuti. “Maximize Your Results: Suggestions for MS Patients.” Maximize Your Results: Institute for Traditional Medicine. N.p., July 1996. Web. 08 Dec. 2015. <http://www.itmonline.org/arts/maximize.htm>.