Traditional Chinese medicine has an important role to play in improving the treatment of people with HIV infection, according to one of the leading experts in the field.
To use traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), you don't have to
understand its underlying philosophy or principles. You can take the herbs,
receive acupuncture, and try other therapies much as you would take a pill –
Western style – and you will still reap considerable benefits.
But a curious thing happens when you use TCM: Its
transforming power works its way into your unconscious as the treatments
strengthen your mind, body, and spirit. You may not understand how it works or
what it can do, but you still find that getting the basic treatments on an
ongoing basis – herbs, acupuncture, dietary therapy, Qi Gong exercise, and
meditation – changes you in subtle but far-reaching ways:
This transformation creates a sense of empowerment that's
particularly important in dealing with a chronic disorder such as HIV disease. A condition like this can erode your sense of control over your own body
and make you feel estranged from your physical and spiritual self.
- You become
more tuned into your physical and spiritual self.
- You become
aware of the profound impact of your breath on your physical and mental
- You begin
to sense the flow of Qi –the life force–through your body.
- You tune
into your own mental and physical strengths and imbalances.
- You learn
to rejoice in the interconnectedness of all life experience.
But there is a way to get reconnected to the total "you."
Putting yourself within the Eastern frame of mind can help you get the most out
of Western treatments, while reducing their negative side effects. You'll also
be better able to manage HIV-associated disorders and diseases, such as
sinusitis and chronic diarrhea, which often resist Western treatments. So I
hope you'll take the time to explore a little bit about the inner workings of
Chinese medicine. It can bring a great deal of joy and healing into your life.
Toxic Heat and HIV: Understanding AIDS from the Chinese
In my practice, I have observed and treated thousands of
people with HIV and AIDS. In particular, I've done clinical evaluations of the
tongues of more than 600 people with HIV infection or AIDS and used the
techniques of pulse diagnosis. Through this process, I have come to understand
that HIV infection is triggered by toxic heat, and initially attacks the spleen
and stomach organ systems. They are the central organs involved in this complex
syndrome and must be supported throughout the entire course of the disease's
treatment, even when the HIV-related disharmonies expand to involve all the
other organ systems as well.
The Impact of Toxic Heat
Toxic heat creates the initial flu-like symptoms that for
many people come with initial exposure to HIV. And as the toxic heat moves more
deeply into all systems of the body, it triggers a whole variety of common
HIV-related symptoms: pruritis (chronic itching), sore throat, increase in body
temperature, a sense of having a fever even if one is not present, and a
nagging sensation that something toxic is present in the body.
Toxic heat is also responsible for the cascade of organ
system disharmonies in the spleen, stomach, kidney and liver, which contribute
to the major complication associated with HIV infection: wasting.
HIV in the Spleen and Stomach Systems
The spleen and stomach systems govern the digestive process,
transforming food energy and fluid into Qi and Xue (blood). As a result, the
spleen and stomach moisten and nurture all the other organ systems and
When toxic heat disrupts the spleen and stomach systems, it
triggers symptoms that are associated with the very early stages of HIV
infection. These symptoms include:
In addition, symptoms of early-stage HIV infection (such as
dry skin and lips) set in when the flow of fluids and food essence from the
spleen and stomach to the lungs is disrupted. Often dryness in one area
triggers dampness in another. Thus, spleen Qi deficiency with dampness can
manifest in one or more of such symptoms as early neuropathy (a numbness or
tingling sensation that often occurs in the hands or feet), swelling and
inflammation of the lymph nodes, vaginal yeast infections, more serious loose
stools, or bloating. Spleen-related diarrhea is very common, with loose stools
and abdominal bloating after eating. Skin rashes, commonly associated with
early-stage HIV infection, are a result of spleen Qi deficiency and lung
disharmonies interacting with the essential substances.
to gain weight, no matter how much one eats
gas, flatulence, and/or dull pain in the abdomen
- The need to
take naps after meals
Spleen Qi deficiency also causes deficient Xue (blood). Once
this sets in, the door is opened to allow Toxic Heat to enter the depleted
blood and penetrate ever deeper into the body. The body then moves into more
advanced stages of HIV/AIDS. If unchecked, an increasing depletion of the
fluids of the Spleen (the Spleen's Yin aspect) leads to overall Yin deficiency,
which in turn can lead to Yang depletion.
Disharmony, HIV Syndromes, and Opportunistic Infections
The combination of Western and Chinese therapies can
temporarily slow the progression of HIV infection to end-stage AIDS for many
people. But wasting can become severe when the cascade of spleen- and
stomach-triggered disorders causes overall Yin deficiency and Yang depletion.
Diarrhea stops, and the skin becomes drier and drier. Thirst is unquenchable.
Fevers spike every afternoon and often in the evenings. The pulse is rapid,
"thready," and superficial. This is a terminal stage of HIV disease.
Acupuncture and herbs are used to support the Shen (spirit) and the passing
over to a new phase of existence.
Toxic heat and the spleen-stomach disharmonies weaken the
body's overall resistance to assault from both internal and external disease
factors. This process allows other organ systems to become involved, leading to
the development of HIV-related disorders and opportunistic infections. For
example, if toxic heat assaults the lungs, PCP (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia)
may develop. Xue disharmonies are associated with Kaposi's sarcoma (a
proliferating, circulatory cell disease that causes skin lesions). Dampness is
associated with candidiasis (yeast infections) and fungal invasions. Yin
deficiency and Xue deficiency are associated with MAC (Mycobacterium Avian
Complex). Dampness and spleen and lung disharmonies may manifest as chronic
sinusitis. Disturbed shen can be associated with the mental ailments that
accompany HIV/AIDS. And there are many more. (A complete list of syndromes is
detailed in Dr. Cohen's book, The HIV Wellness Sourcebook.)
Looking at HIV disease from the perspective of TCM, the
disease starts as an assault by toxic heat that starts with damage to the
spleen and stomach, then moves on to include other organ systems and essential
substances. This approach provides a concise method of describing, diagnosing,
and treating the whole constellation of HIV-related diseases – and those who
live with them.
About the Author
Dr. Misha Ruth Cohen, OMD, L.Ac., has over 25 years
experience in the practice of Asian medicine – including acupuncture, herbal
medicine, nutrition and diet, and Asian bodywork. Misha is the author of three
books: The Chinese Way to Healing: Many Paths to Wholeness; The HIV Wellness
Sourcebook: and The Hepatitis C Helpbook. She is internationally known as a
practitioner, teacher, and mentor to Chinese medicine practitioners around the
world. Today, Cohen has developed great expertise in the area of gynecology and
is considered one of the pioneers of using traditional Chinese medicine to help
treat HIV and AIDS. Visit her website at http://docmisha.com.