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Chinese medicine and inflammation

We’ve probably all experienced the aches and pains of inflammation, but according to western medicine, was is it exactly? 

Well, according to WebMD inflammation is a process by which your body's white blood cells, and the things they make, protect you from infection from outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses. But in some diseases, like arthritis, your body's defense system -- your immune system -- triggers inflammation when there are no invaders to fight off. In these autoimmune diseases, your immune system acts as if regular tissues are infected or somehow unusual, causing damage.

But what does Inflammation feel like?

Well, inflammation can cause redness, aching, swelling, and sometimes a sensation of heat. For some they experience inflammation only after injury like a splinter or a twisted ankle.  Others unfortunately endure this every day. “*Sometimes the trigger cell mechanisms usually used in defense to something “harmful” occasionally over reacts and doesn’t switch off”. This is the case for autoimmune Illnesses like arthritis, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, asthma, IBS, MS and many more chronic inflammatory conditions.

So, in a quick overview, what are the causes of inflammation?

Non-infectious / External reasons

  • Physical: burns, physical injury or trauma, foreign bodies (a splinter).
  • Insect or animal bites
  • Parasites
  • Chemical: too much sugar, fatty acids, toxins, alcohol (yep, those hangovers are inflammatory reactions).
  • Biological: damaged cells
  • Psychological: too much excitement or stress

Infectious / Internal reasons

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses (colds or flu can lead to inflammation, in the sinuses, ears, nose and throat.)
  • Post viral (like when a virus lingers i.e. Shingles)
  • Microorganisms (Candida overgrowth)

Being that there are just so many ways we can experience inflammation, it’s probably a good idea to know what we can do about it. Whether it be Western medicine, Eastern medicines, Natural medicines… there are so many ways to try to help inflammatory issues.

As an acupuncturist, I’m going to talk about how Chinese medicine can support the recovery or management of inflammatory conditions.

What is Inflammation in Chinese Medicine?

In Chinese Medicine (CM) we view inflammation in a slightly different way. CM has various ways to view and diagnose the various forms and styles of inflammation. For example, we categorise most arthritic type conditions as a ‘Bi pattern’. Translated this would be a painful stagnation pattern. This lets us know that there is pain, but it does not identify the root cause of the pain yet.

For example, continuing to use Arthritis as our example, some patients may say cold weather triggers pain, whereas others find heat makes it feel worse. So, both have ‘Bi Syndrome’, but the root cause is different. The Cold pattern needs warming, and to move the Qi (energy) stasis. The Heat pattern would need a treatment to eliminate excess heat Qi. As an acupuncturist, we would then choose appropriate acupuncture points and recommend some herbs or anti-inflammatory foods according to what the root cause is. This would always be unique to the patient.

In other words, we follow the key principle of Chinese Medicine which is to treat not just the symptom but the root cause of disharmony as well.

For example, a western medical diagnosis of Arthritis, could be 4 different syndromes in Chinese medicine diagnostics:

  • Bi syndrome due to what CM call ‘wind qi’, will present as pain that moves around the body.
  • Bi syndrome due to cold shows very strong and fixed pain. This is usually the most painful of all.
  • Bi syndrome due to humidity, shows a fixed pain, and sometimes shows swelling or pustules. Also, it does not change location.
  • Bi syndrome due to heat often will manifest in the joints, and when touched is painful and is hot.

So, what can you the patient do to support yourself?

The best rule of thumb is, as soon as there are signs, deal with the problem ASAP because once inflammation becomes chronic, it transforms and can become a more complicated combination of syndromes.

As for managing inflammation, this is usually supported with a healthy lifestyle managing stress, regular exercise, and a healthy diet. Speaking of diet, among many of nature’s remedies, a few anti-inflammatory foods we use in Chinese medicine which support your immune system include; turmeric, ginger, green tea, fennel, Echinacea, strawberries, apple cider vinegar and spinach, etc.

The most important advice I can offer is to try recognise and understand the type of inflammatory pattern in your body according to CM, and how a balanced immune system supports a speedy recovery. In this way, by adjusting your lifestyle and together with a CM practitioner you can treat cold, heat, wind, damp energies or a mixture of them for long term health benefits avoiding internal or external inflammation.

Stay healthy everyone!

Therese :)