Bishop DAOM, L.Ac
As Seen In "Natural Awakening" Magazine.
Two of the most
difficult questions we are asked as acupuncturists are “How does it work?” and “What is the diagnosis?”
The complexities of medicine make it difficult for any health care professional to explain the complex theory or chemistry.
The years of training, education, experience, observation that cumulates in making a diagnosis is not easy to translate in
a few words or concepts. The difference in language, culture, and concepts of Asian medicine further complicates the understanding.
They both have their strong and weak points.
We are used to having a definitive labeling in our culture - a mechanical conclusion. You have disease
X or disorder Y. While an Eastern diagnosis is more “flowing”. It is akin to measuring and
observing the weather rather than “What’s wrong with the car?” Neither method is right or wrong. East and
West are simply different. East tends to see the body as a garden and the West as a car -
one to be cultivated and one to be fixed.
Within the Acupuncture field there are several schools
of diagnosis. They differ but the base theory is the same. To find a compilation of findings in a grouping that corresponds
to a “diagnosis”. That being said it is fluid and may change daily or never. They call it the
practice of medicine since it certainly is a practice and a set of skills to be honed. As we all know any skill is “operator
dependent” whether driving, art, music, drawing, surgery, or acupuncture. It improves with practice, experience and
some are gifted and some are not.
Western medicine is mechanical. If you are severely injured you
want a mechanical thinking surgeon to put the pieces together, keep the blood flowing, numbers correct and infection non-opportunistic.
In a regular “check up” your blood pressure maybe out of the norm and that number medicated to bring it back into
a healthy range.
In Acupuncture Meridian therapy we look at many aspects of the person. What
the patient says, what the tongue looks like, what the abdomen feels like, findings in the pulse, and more. Books have been
written about each of these and it is beyond the scope of this article to go into elaborate detail. In fact, the common questions
I referenced above could be taught as semester long classes. Suffice to say, it is complex and has a two to three thousand
year written history.
In the ideal world, each finding in the patient’s pulse, tongue, abdomen, answers, demeanor,
would all correspond to the same physical imbalance. Let me give an example: A fictional man, age fifty, reports difficulty sleeping, slight cholesterol problems,
easy irritability, and a main complaint of left leg pain. He reports minor digestive and sweating problems. This gentleman
also had a bad cut to his left leg that healed poorly, due to poor self care, and non-compliance to his physician’s
advice. His wife reports he has anger and control
issues. He runs his own office like an “army general” but lately is more and more fatigued. He has a previous
failed marriage, financial issues, frequently complains and files nuance law suits.
tends to make me think there is a possible “Liver Imbalance” but I am certain that a battery of western tests
would not confirm a western liver disorder. To further confirm my diagnosis I would look for “Liver signs” in
his tongue. This might include teeth marks on the side or pale sides in comparison to the rest of the tongue or even a slight
purple color. I would look for a liver pulse quality which might be described as tight or wiry to touch. Western medicine
looks for beats per minute and sometimes regularity. I would also examine the abdomen. The abdomen may have areas of weakness
over the reflex zones for the liver and possibly kidney (the supporting organ to the liver). Eastern medicine looks for tendencies
to a disharmony with hopes of fielding it off to keep it from edging into a western diagnosis. Western medicine would look
for end stage diseases in the abdomen, such as an enlarged liver or acute rebound tenderness for appendicitis.
In the perfect clinical world his tongue, abdomen, symptoms, pulse would all match. We would then know his case would
tend to be resolve quicker than if all the findings did not match the same liver pattern. The general consensus in Japan is
that diagnoses and prognosis is becoming more difficult due to the increase use of medication, chemicals, preservatives and
life stress. The concept of the liver is much broader in eastern medicine. It runs from the big toes to behind the eyes. It
is a band of points intersecting associated organs and body parts. Western medicine associates gout, hormonal migraines, cholesterol,
eye disorders and more loosely to the liver as do we. It is beyond the scope of this article and a subject
of many books, the intricacies of its functions. The liver system could be further depleted by use of alcohol, medications,
drug, stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, and lack of exercise or plain poor genetics. If this gentleman continues to tax his
liver system, the kidney system will need to use its resources to support it. His anger and mood swings could increase and
in a poorly emotionally functional individual possible rages and irrational bursts of anger could occur. In
time diabetes, ED, low libido, and hypertension could manifest. If inclined more severe personality disorders may become more
Our fictional patient basically ran on high throughout his life and is successful. His body
is beginning to pay the price. Most wait till there is a disaster but this gentleman chose to come in for treatment. Through
a series of acupuncture treatments we would expect his moods, stamina, libido, and pain to all stabilize. As his body system
moves into a better state of health, the least stressed systems would return to optimal functioning. That means the easiest
treatable symptoms correct first showing us we are on the right path. Sometimes the symptom the patient sought for treatment
resolves the slowest since it is the most misaligned. The “easier” symptoms easing or disappearing is a prognosis
we are going in the right direction. His digestion improvement would lead to better nutrients entering the blood. This “good
fertilizer”, if you will, would lead to healthier tissue, and organ function and therefore better sleep, stamina, mood
and wellness. Much like an overgrown vacant lot does not change into an abundant healthy organic food garden overnight so
too the body does not resolve to complete wellness overnight. This man’s mechanical thinking may lead him to abandon
a health altering series since his leg did not magically mend overnight. Magical thinking dominates in our culture. At this
point in the patient's health we would expect a shift in the right direction; better weather and more days of it.
Each organ system in our medicine can be elaborated in great detail in the same way. We group symptoms into categories
and treat them together. Seemingly one might be surprised that we would group some shoulder, intestine, and nasal allergy
symptoms in the same organ system, but with the advancement of brain scans, embryological development studies, and other advanced
scientific understandings we find more western links every day. For example - Neural cells are found both in the intestines
and the brain. Eastern medicine has always associated both areas with the heart 心 (kokoro). The concept of “heart” is different in both cultures. In western
medicine it is an organ in the chest. In western language in also includes an attitude. In Japanese Acupuncture it is a concept
that includes aspects of soul, spirit and organ. You can see the complexity of translating and describing this medicine.
The best result some day will be a combination of both medicines based in what is the most beneficial for optimal
for the patient health care. A model could exist that reduces health care costs, increases efficacy and well being. We hope
the average American sees their health as something they cultivate, guard and are proactive in its maintenance.