Autoimmune and degenerative diseases both represent significant challenges for modern medicine. Though the two types of conditions are very different, one area where they are similar lies in the fact that the treatments offered can weaken the patient. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine offer an alternative philosophy and approach that both address the immediate symptoms and provide renewed strength and support to help sustain and improve the patient’s condition.
Understanding autoimmune disease
Autoimmune diseases involve the body’s immune system attacking healthy cells and tissues in the same way that it is supposed to attack disease. These conditions, which include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease, are endured by approximately 24 million people in the United States. Their genesis is poorly understood. Some have been linked to genetics, while others seem to be triggered by medications, bacteria, toxins and other external actors. There are no cures available for any of the eighty-plus variations that have been identified.
Rather than addressing the disease itself, most treatments are designed to manage and relieve symptoms, and in many cases the treatments available can cause additional damage. Drugs that suppress the immune system can stop an immediate flare-up of symptoms, but at the same time they weaken the immune system’s ability to respond to other illnesses, leaving patients medically vulnerable. Similarly, drugs that treat inflammation can be administered, but can create adverse side effects.
Understanding degenerative disease
Degenerative diseases involve a progressive and irreversible breakdown of the body’s cells and tissues. The conditions that are most frequently associated with the term ‘degenerative disease’ often affect the cells of the central nervous system and include Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and Parkinson’s Disease, though there are also degenerative diseases that affect the circulatory system and the blood. Some of the effects of degenerative diseases are attributed to normal aging, but others have been linked to genetics or external causes.
Most treatments for degenerative diseases are geared towards either the alleviation of symptoms or delaying progression of the disease. These treatments have provided only marginal improvement, and in many cases the benefits of those improvements are diminished by their negative side effects. Cures have not been identified.
Approaching degenerative diseases and autoimmune diseases from a different perspective
Traditional Chinese Medicine views health and illness in terms of balance and harmony of the functional entities. Where disruptions in balance and harmony occur, illness follows, and treatments for autoimmune diseases and degenerative diseases follow the same process of identifying patterns of wind or cold, heat or dampness, excess or deficiency as with other illnesses and ailments.
Both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medicine acknowledge that the aging process diminishes function and circulation leading to deficiency and stagnation, and degenerative and autoimmune diseases are viewed as having been triggered by enduring pathological mechanisms in the body and their resulting damage. But another viewpoint held by Chinese medicine involves the penetration of the body by environmental influences such as cold, damp and wind. In response, treatments are designed to nourish the area of the body that is suffering degeneration and to invigorate other organ systems while clearing away existing accumulations and treating symptoms of the manifestations of the disease.
Acupuncture as treatment for degenerative and autoimmune diseases
The use of acupuncture in the treatment of these conditions evokes physical responses in the nerve cells, the pituitary gland and parts of the brain. It can regulate the active immune system from either overactivity or underactivity while also restoring balance to alleviate the specific symptoms that are being experienced by the patient. It can clear inflammation, support the body’s self-healing mechanism and create a path for the eradication of toxins and pathogenic factors that are doing damage to the body’s cells. Studies have proven acupuncture to be effective in the treatment of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, improving “functions and quality of life” through its anti-inflammatory effect, its antioxidative effect, and its regulation of immune system function. Similarly, studies of acupuncture’s effect on patients with ulcerative colitis and/or Crohn’s disease showed that patients experienced relief of gas, bloating, nausea, abdominal pain and other common symptoms.
Chinese Medicine as treatment for degenerative and autoimmune diseases
Chinese herbs are a potent method of restoring function within the body. Depending upon the functions that are out of balance, they can cool or warm the body and boost or slow metabolic activity. Studies have proven that the herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine effectively improve the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, offering “improvement of dementia with fewer side effects than conventional drugs.” Similarly, a report published in ALS News Today showed that Chinese caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps), an herb commonly used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, minimized motor neuron loss and extended the lifespan of laboratory animals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Treatment of degenerative and autoimmune diseases at Empirical Point Acupuncture
Sharon Sherman has been licensed to practice acupuncture and Oriental Medicine since 2001 and holds the highest credential available from both the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine and the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She has deep knowledge and understanding of degenerative and autoimmune diseases and of how acupuncture and herbs can provide relief and numerous benefits for the unique range of symptoms experienced by her patients.