I’ve heard many testimonials from friends, patients, and colleagues about their profound healing experiences with Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The stories usually go like this: A debilitating pain or condition was taking over their lives (often physical pain or mysterious symptoms that western medicine had no explanation for); they had run out of options with western medicine–nothing was working to relieve them; and out of desperation they visited an acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine did the trick — it helped them.
Many acupuncturists often tell of their own life-changing experiences on their websites as a testimonial to the power of the medicine. I have resisted telling my story because it’s sort of embarrassing.
I too had a transformative and amazing experience that left me in total awe and wonder at the effects of the medicine. I wish my experience was something a little less embarrassing than a case of intractable diarrhea. But here’s my story — and yes it’s a poop story but it is also the experience that proved to me that “energy” medicine is real and that Chinese Medicine practitioners are excellent diagnosticians!
In 2009 my husband and I were chaperones on a high school trip to the Presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. We spent several days outside in the freezing cold going to museums, the inauguration, and landmarks around D.C., etc., with hot packs in our shoes and gloves, trying to keep ourselves warm by the glow of the excitement of millions of people.
After a wonderful — but very cold — trip, I returned home and got sick. Basically, to be blunt, I had the worst diarrhea of my life for days. Anything I ate — even a teaspoon of apple sauce — immediately went right through me. By day four, in the middle of the night, I collapsed on the floor shivering, exhausted, dehydrated, and with a body temperature of 95.7. My husband picked me up and took me to the emergency room.
In the emergency room I was given a bag of IV fluids which is one of the miracles of modern medicine. The fluids helped me to feel immediately better. But the diarrhea did not stop. The doctor ran a number of tests trying to find an answer, but found nothing abnormal in the stool samples except blood. He told me the diarrhea was so bad, and I had nothing left inside, that the trauma to my intestines was causing bleeding. He wanted to give me antibiotics just to be safe — even though there was no sign of infection — and he wanted to do a complete scope of my digestive tract, which didn’t sound fun at all. Feeling much better with the fluids in me, I convinced my husband to take me home.
The following day the diarrhea got worse and I was alarmed to find there was now blood in my urine. I called my primary care doctor and left a message about my new symptom. She returned my call and insisted I return to the emergency room, said something was truly wrong, and with panic in her voice admitted she had no idea what it could be.
By the time of my illness I had been in Chinese Medicine school for less than a year. It occurred to me that if I was studying this medicine, perhaps I should see if it could help me. The idea of going back to the hospital did not excite me (they wanted to admit me), and the $4,000 ER visit had been kind of a set back. I was desperate and figured I had nothing to lose.
I went to the student clinic at my school that afternoon. Sitting in the waiting area one of my teachers walked through and stopped to ask how I was feeling. I burst into tears and told her it had been nearly a week having diarrhea and now there was also blood in my urine. The doctors could find nothing and I was frightened. She calmly took my hand and said, “Don’t worry. I know what’s wrong with you.”
She took me back into the clinic and used two needles on my lower legs. She lit a moxibustion stick and spent about fifteen minutes holding it over my abdomen. She explained that from a Chinese Medicine perspective I had started with a weakened digestive system, and damaged it further being in the extreme cold while in Washington D.C. A lack of internal digestive fires can lead to diarrhea as well as bleeding. This is why the Emergency Room could find no evidence of a pathogen — there was none, except for the cold.
I went home after the treatment to find the diarrhea was gone. The blood in my urine was also gone. Immediately. The diarrhea I had had for seven days stopped just like that. I followed my teacher’s advice and began taking an herbal formula for digestion and was able to keep in the foods she recommended.
I sat with my dog on my front porch in the Bay Area sunshine that day and I wondered, “How in the heck did that work? All she did was wave a hot herbal stick over my belly and put two needles in my legs…and it cost me about $30.”
The emergency room and my primary care doctor had no idea what was wrong with me, since nothing was found on my tests. My teacher, within five minutes of talking to me, learning I had been in the extreme cold and knowing my symptoms, knew exactly what was wrong. And her treatment worked instantly. Sitting there smiling in the sunshine, no longer running to the bathroom, it struck me — this “energy” thing they keep talking about at school is real. This medicine works! What an amazing revelation to have at the beginning of my studies.
Not every single experience with Chinese Medicine is so profound, but there are plenty of these stories out there. There are also some scientific “explanations” from western medicine about how / why acupuncture works.
The Concept of Energy
People who grew up in a culture where acupuncture was not commonly practiced sometimes find the idea of “energy channels” running through the body hard to swallow. We tend to believe only in what we can see. And if you can’t see it, it surely doesn’t exist!
It’s strange that the idea of energy channels is so hard to swallow – we power our homes with “invisible” energy that comes through wires into our walls, the signals we receive on our radios are not visible, we can connect to the internet “wirelessly” capturing a signal.
As far as the body is concerned, biomedicine has tests that measure electrical conductivity in our hearts and brains (EKGs and EEGs) – so why so difficult to believe we have energy channels running through our bodies, conducting “qi” that connects our organs to points all over our bodies?
Some Scientific Experiments on the Effect and Nature of Acupuncture Points
In the demand for “evidence” for how acupuncture works, scientific trials have been conducted using modern imaging equipment such as “functional magnetic resonance imaging” (fMRIs) and “high temporal-resolution magnetoencephalography” (MEGs).
Following needling of different acupuncture points, it has been seen that these acupuncture points activate relevant areas in the brain, which in turn initiate a cascade of chemical signals that regulate various systems in the body.
For example, a point located on the lower leg “Gallbladder 34,” has been proven to light up beneficial regions in the brains of Parkinson’s patients; the much used point “Stomach 36,” has been shown activate “the multiple brain regions of the ‘splanchnic brain’ (neurons in the organs) and thus relieve pain.”
Furthermore, studies also compared the effects of identified acupuncture points with random “sham” points using high-resolution MEG imaging technology. These studies have revealed that while the real acupuncture points displayed marked effects in the brain, the sham points did not.
These experiments make sense from an anatomical point of view as well. Acupuncture points have been found to be “neurovascular nodes.” These nodes contain a concentrated group of blood vessels, sensory nerves and fibers, lymphatic vessels, and mast cells and ensure proper flow of blood, glucose, and oxygen through the vascular system.
The whole body is an interconnected system. Whether you consider it a “neurovascular node” or an acupuncture point, it makes sense that needling a point on the leg can effect a chemical in the brain which in turn can stimulate the body to rebalance itself. And to get rid of a case of intractable diarrhea!
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