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Endocrine Disorders and Acupuncture: Willingness to See the World Differently

Endocrine Disorders and Acupuncture: Willingness to See the World Differently

Chinese Medicine has a great deal to offer within the understanding and treatment of hormonal-endocrine conditions. Classical Chinese Medicine sees the body, mind and spirit as inseparable; the endocrine system can also be seen in this way.

The endocrine system provides regulation of the body through hormonal secretions. Within Western Medicine, the endocrine system is acknowledged in its effect on structural aspects of the body, such as tissue growth; functional aspects such as metabolism; as well as mental-emotional aspects, such as mood.

The Western concept of the endocrine system can be seen as a body, mind and spirit mechanism through its widespread effect on the entirety of the human system. If we are injured playing basketball, the endocrine system responds to this. Also, if we just went through a trauma such as a breakup from someone we love, the endocrine system will also deal with this. It is the job of the endocrine system to manage the stress within our lives: be it on the physical or mental-emotional level.

Western Medicine is slowly integrating its understanding of the mind-body connection: how the mind and emotions effect the physical body, and vice versa. Classical Chinese Medicine, in its 2000 year history, has always acknowledged this connection.

As I’ve learned from my clinical practice, acknowledging the effect of the mind and emotions on the physical body is very important. Often patients will come to me with concerns that have not been successfully treated through conventional Western Medicine. More often than not, the missing elements within prior treatment were the mental and emotional aspects to their condition. Treating someone physically for something that is being perpetuated by emotional trauma from the past is likely to continue coming back (or never fully go away in the first place).

All systems within the body are seen as synergistic within Chinese Medicine. The Kidney energy supports the Spleen-Pancreas and Stomach energies. The Heart and Lung energies support the Kidney energy, ect. When trying to effect a therapeutic change within the Stomach for example, support from other systems is often called for. If the Stomach is weak, the Kidney energy may be called upon to help rebuild the fluids and/or function of the weak organ. If the Stomach is overactive with inflammation, the Lung or Pericardium may be called upon to help release the toxic heat.

A common criticism of Western treatment of endocrine disorders is the failure to acknowledge the synergistic relationship between the glands of the body. I frequently see patients being treated for thyroid conditions with medications that only focus on the thyroid. Sometimes they are even encouraged to undergo treatment to have their thyroids destroyed. From a Chinese Medical point of view, this type of treatment strategy is seen as insufficient, even harmful.

The thyroid roughly relates to the Stomach energy within Chinese Medicine. There are physical, mental-emotional and spiritual functions of the Stomach channel. The thyroid sits under an acupuncture point called “The Welcoming of Humanity.” However, the thyroid is also seen as a gland relating to the adjustment of the adrenals to the pancreas. Translated into Chinese Medicine: the Kidney energy as adjusting to the Stomach energy.

The “spirit” of the acupuncture point “The Welcoming of Humanity” relates to judgement. The Kidney energy represents the true self, the Stomach represents the social self. The thyroid, as represented by “The Welcoming of Humanity” is the interface between these two aspects of the self relating to discernment and judgement. One can imagine the mental-emotional implications this relationship has on a person.

When a person experiences a trauma that violates the connection between the two aspects of the self, or the Kidney-Stomach connection, this can manifest through the point “The Welcoming of Humanity.” It is interesting that symptoms of hyperactive thyroid: heat intolerance, palpitations, nervousness, increased bowel movements and fatigue, are also symptoms of the Stomach Channel. Philosophically, the Stomach relates to our primitive emotions: how we feel about something. When we are uncomfortable with an experience, the Stomach channel will become exuberant, manifesting its discomfort through heat signs and emotional discharge.

Treatment of someone within this scenario may involve supporting them to metabolize the uncomfortable experience, and/or come to peace with that which is unsettling about the inner self or the outer world. To achieve this “healing,” the Heart, Spleen or Kidney channels may also be called upon to support the Stomach. To treat the Stomach channel on its own is probably not going to cut it, especially when working with the thyroid. The treatment must acknowledge the connection between the Stomach and its fellow channels, or the thyroid and its fellow glands.

To adequately affect endocrine conditions, one often has to work with a person’s perception of the world. This strategy involves working with the sense organs. As acupuncture is mind-body medicine, this strategy carries both physical as well as mental-emotional connotations. This can include working on a person’s environmental allergies, manifesting through the eyes or nose; or food allergies, as relating to the mouth and throat. Or, a person can be “allergic” or highly sensitive to the world. To treat all of these areas, one must work with the sense organs. It is the Stomach channel that travels to all of the sense organs of the face.

The Stomach is supported by the Small Intestine channel both physically and spiritually. After the Stomach has begun the initial assimilation of food or worldly experience, it is the Small Intestine that further “sorts and separates.” Philosophically, it is the Stomach that “welcomes” and “feels” the stimuli. The Small Intestine gives meaning to the stimuli, judging it as “good” or “bad,” as it relates to one’s inner self (the kidney).

What all of this philosophical-medical imagery means is, changing perception of either oneself or the world can be key to treating endocrine disorders.

I will not discount the fact that people do come with conditions that are purely physical. Not everyone wants to work on the mental-emotional-spiritual level. What is nice about acupuncture is the fact that all acupuncture points treat both the physical and mental-emotional-spiritual simultaneously.

It must be said that it’s not merely the application of needles into acupuncture points that creates healing: it is the rapport created through the therapeutic relationship between healer and patient. The acupuncturist may lead the way. But it is the willingness of the patient that allows the change. The body possesses a natural desire for health. The therapeutic work is often the process of clearing away all that blocks the natural capacity of the body to heal; be it thoughts, emotions, virus, bacteria, or stagnant blood and fluids.

The willingness to change and let go is the most powerful event within the healing process. To see the world differently can be life and health-changing.

Nicholas Sieben, MS, L.Ac.

Nicholas is a healer who uses acupuncture and reiki to help awaken and heal. His mission is to promote greater freedom of body, mind and spirit through compassionate self-awareness. Through the use of ancient medical practices and the spiritual philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, Nicholas helps illuminate the path to healing. He is a student of the renown Taoist priest and Chinese Medical Master Jeffrey Yuen. He completed his acupuncture studies under Mr. Yuen at the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences, and received a B.A. from Brandeis University in Sociology and Philosophy. He has a practice in New York City.

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