Expert Advice on Common Diseases
Expert Advice-Treatment of Asthma in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):
Acupuncture for Asthma
Over the last 50-75 years, the incidence of asthma in
industrialized countries has steadily increased, especially among children, to
alarming proportions. Scientists around the world are studying this
"epidemic," as well as researching the long-term effects of taking
anti-asthma drugs such as bronchodilators. In China, research on the efficacy of
acupuncture and herbal medicine in the treatment of asthma shows that
traditional Chinese medicine compares favorably with standard Western treatment,
and provides an alternative approach for those who want to strengthen their
bodiesí natural defenses and avoid the long-term use of drugs.
Asthma is an immune-system-related respiratory disorder in
which the breathing passages become narrow or blocked, and are typically
inflamed. Asthma can be "extrinsic" or "intrinsic."
Extrinsic asthma is caused by an allergic reaction to a foreign substance
(called an allergen) such as pollen, animal dander, animal fur, dust, mold, food
additives, or feather pillows, and it is strongly seasonal. Intrinsic asthma is
a non-seasonal, non-allergic type of asthma. Trigger factors for intrinsic
asthma attacks include air pollutants, tobacco smoke, strong odors, cold
weather, physical exertion, emotional stress, or temperature or humidity
changes. Often, an episode of intrinsic asthma will follow a severe respiratory
Asthma in Chinese Medicine
In traditional Chinese medicine theory, asthma is clearly
differentiated between the actual attacks and the periods between attacks. When
the attacks are happening, this is considered to be an acute, Excess condition,
and the objective is to disperse the Excess and stop the attack. Wind, a
non-substantial pathogenic factor, lodges in the bronchi and combines with Cold
or Heat pathogenic factors to cause bronchospasms.
Between attacks, the body is considered to be in a Deficiency
condition. The Lungs and Kidneys work together to produce "wei qi," or
Defensive Chi. Defensive Chi can be thought of as analogous to the immune
system. It is a Yang energy that is manufactured from the food we eat. The
Kidneys are the root of our ability to produce Defensive Chi, and the Lungs
spread Defensive Chi near the outer surface of our bodies to ward off pathogenic
factors like Wind, Cold, and Heat. When the Lungs or Kidneys (or both) are weak,
there is often a deficiency of Defensive Chi, making us more vulnerable to
colds, infections, asthma attacks, etc. It is thought that a personís
Defensive Chi can be weak due to a hereditary constitutional weakness (up to 75%
of children with asthma have a family history of the disorder); but mothers who
smoke during pregnancy and childhood immunizations are also cited as
contributing factors in asthma.
Acupuncture can have a remarkable effect in stopping an acute
asthma attack. Many patients experience immediate relief after an acupuncture
treatment, feeling that the airway blockage was simply removed. Because
bronchospasms result from over-stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous
system, some traditional acupuncture points for "calming the spirit"
are widely used for asthma. Stimulation of these points can relieve both
physical and emotional stress, possibly because they trigger the release of
neurotransmitters in the brain. The patient can therefore experience both a
physical release from his bronchial constriction, and also an emotional or
psychological release from the fear of constriction and suffocation.
In Chinese philosophy, and in Chinese medicine, man is seen
as an integral part of nature. The fact that allergen-induced asthma attacks are
strongly seasonal, with the most devastating attacks occurring in winter and
spring, leads Chinese medicine practitioners to coordinate their treatment of
asthma sufferers with the seasons. In the winter and spring, during attacks, the
emphasis is on dispersing the pathogenic factors of Wind, Cold, and Heat. In the
summer, attention is turned to tonifying the Deficiency condition of the Lungs
and Kidneys, and stimulating the body to increase its reserves of Defensive Chi.
Because summer is the most Yang time of the year, the energy of the season is
used to build up the bodyís supply of Yang energy.
Scientific studies in China and elsewhere show that the
ancient Chinese medicine theories have a basis in scientific fact. The whole
scope of traditional Chinese medicine is an elaborate and elegant construct
which canít be scientifically proven in its entirety, but modern research
reveals a number of mechanisms that support the ancient healing arts:
Neuro-regulation of Air Passages.
Researchers at Nanjing
University of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that relieving asthma attacks
by acupuncture is closely related to neuro-regulation of air passages. They
further found that sympathetic nerve excitement and diastolization of the smooth
muscle of the bronchial tubes can be achieved by stimulating acupuncture points
on the back. The systaltic function of the smooth muscles of the airways is
regulated through the neuroendocrine center of the hypothalamus, and this
function can be measurably affected by needling certain back shu points.
Serum cAMP and cAMP/cGMP. Levels of certain substances in
the blood called cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and cyclic guanosine
monophosphate (cGMP) seem to have a bearing on asthma patients. Asthma patients
experiencing wheezing and breathlessness have lower serum levels of cAMP and
cAMP/cGMP. Many clinical studies conducted in China found that acupuncture can
increase the levels of serum cAMP and cAMP/cGMP.
RBC-CR1R. Red blood cells have the function of
transporting oxygen to body tissues, and also aid in immunoabsorption. In
traditional Chinese medicine, the Kidneys have the function of generating and
controlling bone growth, storing our genetic essence, generating bone marrow,
and aiding in the production of blood. Kidney Deficiency in traditional Chinese
medicine and low red blood cell counts in conventional medicine are related.
Research in Hangzhou Red Cross Hospital shows that the immunological index of
red blood cells (RBC-CR1R) was markedly increased after optimum-timing
acupuncture treatment for Kidney Deficiency, compared with the control group.
An acidocyte is a type of white
blood cell. An increase in acidocyte levels indicates allergic reaction in an
organism. A clinical study at the Affiliated Yueyang Hospital of Shanghai
University of Traditional Chinese Medicine shows that acupuncture at UB13 (Fei
Shu), LU5 (Chi Ze), LU7 (Lie Que), ST40 (Feng Long), Ren 22 (Tian Tu), and extra
point Ding Chuan can decrease acidocyte levels.
17-Hydroxy Corticosteroid in Urine.
medicine believes that there exists a correlation between asthma and the pattern
of Kidney Deficiency. Clinical observations reveal that asthma patients tend to
have lower levels of the hormone 17-hydroxy corticosteroid in their urine, which
is closely related to Kidney Deficiency in Chinese medicine. Many clinical
studies show that acupuncture can increase the level of 17-hydroxy
corticosteroid in urine.
It is believed that asthma attacks are correlated with a lower
hypophalmus-pituitary-adrenocortical function. Clinical research found that
tonifying the Kidneys with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can improve
that function and relieve asthma attacks.
In a randomized, controlled clinical trial in the department
of the Osler Chest Unit, Churchill Hospital, Oxford, England, twelve matched
pairs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease received either
traditional acupuncture or placebo acupuncture over a three-week treatment
period. After treatment, the traditional acupuncture group showed a significant
improvement in terms of subjective scores of breathlessness and six-minute
walking distance. Kim Jobst at Oxford University conducted a parallel study of
the efficacy of acupuncture on asthma. This study also showed improvements by
two measures: "quality of life" scores, and breathlessness
These clinical trials at Oxford indicate that acupuncture
treatments achieved the following goals: reduced the spasmodic tendency in the
bronchi; kept the lungs from contracting at the least little irritant in the
air; opened narrowed blood vessels in the lungs; and promoted relaxation and the
ability to breathe more fully.