Traditional Chinese Medicine and ME
ME: How External Causes Affect Our Health – The Traditional Chinese Medical Understanding
When as Chinese medicine practitioners we meet patients with ME and its associated conditions, our first priority is to establish a diagnosis. For millennia the Chinese have understood that different diseases can have the same one cause, and that one cause can result in a variety of diseases. To understand each patient’s particular illness, we analyse in detail the patient’s history and in doing so reflect on the current symptoms and, as importantly, the reason why the symptoms have occurred.
In Chinese medicine, ME is often seen to be the result of an invasion of external forces which remain in the body long after the original illness has gone. This is similar to the Western theory which links ME to viral illness. Where do these external forces, referred to as retained pathogenic factors in Chinese medicine, come from? And why do we retain them in our body?
Well, the main pathogenic factor is Wind, which is usually accompanied by another agent such as Heat or Cold. We can physically feel these agents – a hot sunny day or a cold winter night alters the way we feel about pain for example. Some pain is better for heat, some feels as if it needs to be cooled especially if there is any itching present. Damp, another factor, is often accompanied by Heat, causing us to perspire more than usual. We use these terms as a shorthand to describe a diagnosis which includes many symptoms such as sore throat, thirst, shivers/fever, obesity, pain relieved by warmth and so on. We can also be aware of Wind – maybe on the beach or under air conditioning. When Wind enters the body we find pain that moves about, or a runny nose, or itching. Damp is found both in the environment and in the food we eat – think how soggy a sausage roll can be! We also produce Damp internally by worrying too much.
When you have a cold, it’s likely that your body’s “wei qi” – similar to the immune system – has been compromised in some way. Perhaps you’ve been overworking, or taking on too much, or worrying too much. Your body becomes weakened and susceptible to these pathogenic factors and so you become ill. Generally we throw off these infections, but sometimes they become lodged in the body, or even appear to be expelled but the body has merely suppressed the agent. This happens when we take suppressive drugs to combat disease – including cold remedies and antibiotics.
The seeds of weak wei qi are sown in the past. Every illness has its own cause. For example, in clinic we often see people who have overworked in every single area of their lives. The majority of people with ME are women – and so many women have been working at full time jobs, running a home, caring for children and aging parents, that it should come as no surprise that eventually their body just has no energy to carry on. Alongside this is the pressure that both men and women are under to work more, play harder, achieve the next goal – and maybe we’re not all cut out to achieve success from a material perspective!
Furthermore, in many cases an acute illness is regarded as an inconvenience and not a reason to slow down. During an acute fever, as much rest as possible is required to ensure that the body recovers properly. Many of those with ME reported that it began after a severe infection during which normal life continued apace. There is no research to show that such patients habitually overworked, but anecdotal evidence indicates that this may be the case.
Another reason that these factors develop is the inappropriate use of antibiotics. In Chinese medicine antibiotics kill bacteria but do not clear the underlying cause of the disease. Antiobiotics are described as cold in nature, and using cold to alleviate heat can slow down our energy.- think about how we are affected by cold in winter when we leave a warm building – our tendency is to shrink into our clothes for warmth before we begin to shiver. As it slows, we develop heat and this can contribute to further infections. Antibiotics are particularly inappropriate for viral infections as they are ineffective.
For children with ME, overwork, lack of sleep and poor nutrition contribute to the effects of retained pathogenic agents which may arise from childhood illnesses such as chronic earache, tonsillitis, catarrh, sinusitis and frequent mouth ulcers.
So, how do Chinese medical practitioners treat ME? It can be hard to dislodge the pathogenic agents especially if the individual is a chronic sufferer from ME. The practitioner aims to help the patient to understand how their condition developed and can offer other forms of therapy alongside acupuncture – dietary and lifestyle advice, for example. Our goal is to help you, as a patient, to deal with your condition in a more positive way. We can offer a helping hand and a listening ear whilst you are taking the road to recovery.
Written by Jan Taylor