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In modern medicine, people typically come to the doctor when they are ill or have a problem. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this is also true, but people were also encouraged to come for periodic “tune-up” treatments for the purpose of preventing illness.

Does this preventive strategy make sense in this day and age?

The “One Law” of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is “The universe is energy, and the laws it obeys.” This was written down between 2500 and 4500 years ago, and this is what Albert Einstein told us around 100 years ago with his Relativity Theory. It is the working basis for modern physics and all current sciences.

The Chinese ancients noticed that there was a difference between the energy of living things (“Ch’i”) and other forms of energy. They described an orderly flow of this life energy around and through living organisms and they identified twenty major pathways, or “meridians”, through which the Chi normally flows. These major channels, like the major blood vessels, branch and rebranch and ultimately supply every cell with vitality. We can find and measure these channels electronically.

Ch’I, or Vital Energy: Concept or Reality? 

The term “vital energy” or “life energy” has historically been treated with disdain by allopathic medicine. Systems of medicine that are based on a belief in vital energy (virtually ALL other systems of medicine) are derided as “vitalistic,” which is considered unscientific. Someday, I hope someone will explain this to me, since it is very clear that without “life energy” there is no real need for medicine of any sort.

As a former Emergency Room physician who has been present at many deaths, I can assure you that there is a huge difference between the living and the non-living and I do not need a double-blind study to prove that. The difference is life itself, what we call “Ch’i” in Chinese medicine. It is a mystery, but it is different than all other known forms of energy in that it reproduces itself and it repairs itself.

So What Does Ch’i have to do with health?

To be healthy, we need to have enough energy and it needs to be able to flow to all parts of the body, in the same way that the blood needs to reach every cell. There are basically only two things that can go wrong, either we become deficient in energy, or the circulation develops blockages.

If we become deficient in energy, the goal is to build the energy supply through nutrition, herbs, exercise and good stress management (poor stress management fritters energy away.) If energy is blocked in certain areas of the body, creating pain and/or dysfunction, we aim to relieve the blockage through stimulating appropriate acupuncture points, massage, bodywork, and sometimes emotional work.

Reimbursement and Prevention

In ancient China, people would pay their doctors when they were well, and if patients fell ill, the doctors would take them into their homes and treat them for free until they were better. So the doctors had a huge incentive to attend carefully to the health habits of their patients. They encouraged them to live “in harmony with the seasons,” conserving and expending energy in proportion to the energy available. In fact, this was believed to be the only way to actually cure an illness, or to achieve good health and longevity.

When people were well, the doctor examined them quarterly, updating their health status, examining the face for subtle colors, listening to the pitch of the voice, checking their pulses and assessing the amount, flow, and balance of Ch’i. They believed that they could both detect and correct minor imbalances at those times and prevent them from becoming major imbalances that eventually precipitated illness or disease.

The oldest medical textbook on earth, the “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine,” says that “to treat a disease when it is already manifest is like beginning to dig a well when you are already dying of thirst.” Considering how many people with long-established illness we have been able to help, I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Does This Make Any Rational Sense?

It isn’t possible to say, scientifically, whether we can prevent illness this way, and the research that might inform us is unlikely to be done. A study would have to follow thousands, if not tens of thousands of people for 40-50 years, a project that would cost billions of dollars and there would be no profitable product to sell at the end of it. Perhaps the NIH will include this data in a large prevention project someday but it won’t be finished in most of our lifetimes.

The concept certainly makes some sense, though. There are spikes in many different types of illness – from colds and flus to heart attacks and ulcers – at both the equinoxes and solstices, apparently induced by stressful responses to the shifts that occur at these times.

Modern research has shown, both in animals and humans, that acupuncture reduces the toll of stress responses in the body and mind.

In Marin, we are lucky in that we tend to eat well, and enjoy outdoor activities. Not many people smoke. That makes stress our major health risk factor, and managing stress well is a key to not only a healthier, but more enjoyable life.

What Does This Mean to You?

If you have found that acupuncture has helped you before, you are a good candidate for preventive maintenance as part of your wellness program.  You already know that your body responds well to acupuncture, and that it tends to create a state of both relaxation and alertness. 

A visit at the change of the season can let us assess and balance your system with the goal of enhancing wellness and preventing illness. Many of my patients who live with high levels of stress come for preventive treatments once every 4-6 weeks and find that they sleep better, have less tension and more energy.

It’s something to think about, and I’d be happy to discuss what a reasonable health maintenance program might look like for you. Just call or email me anytime.

All best to you, and may you learn to live in harmony with the seasons of the year and of your life.

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