A TCM and Biomedical Perspective
By: Matthew Sabey Smith, DACM, MSOM, LAc., Dipl.Ac., CPT
***Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not meant to be used as medical advice or the treatment/cure of any disease. If you are considering using any of the following information, first consult your medical provider. ***
You know the drill right?
Every change of the season results in new weather patterns, new things sprouting or dying and as a result somehow if affects you even if you have no idea why. It is pretty interesting however because this occurs as a result of what is going on (not just externally) but internally as well. In traditional chinese medicine (TCM for short) there is a saying that we always discuss “where man fits between heaven and earth.” This relates to the deep rooted conceptual paradigm of Yin and Yang. So let me break this down for you a little bit before we continue.
The Yin & Yang Paradigm
Yin and Yang is something that comes up a lot in traditional chinese medicine but also in society - yet a lot of people don’t actually understand the root of it and why it is so useful. The concept of yin and Yang originated from the comparison of a hill where one side was lightened up from the sun while the other side was dark due to a lack of sun. You could picture this as one side facing the sun and the other facing the moon. Yin and yang is not a “one or the other” concept but rather a relationship between the two. As you would see a hill, the progression of light would progressively change as it crosses from one side to the other- therefore showing different degrees of lightness or darkness.
So the reason this is so useful in diagnosis, understanding health, and the individual symptomatology of a person is because it is all relative to the factors present.
The Spring Vs The Summer
Let’s take a more simple approach, if you suffer from seasonal allergies in the spring, but your friend suffers from seasonal allergies in the summer, you would just chalk it up to different blooming seasons right?
Well what if I told you it is deeper than that…
Thankfully we have biomedicine to diagnose you and your friend with the condition of seasonal allergies- but…. Does that mean just take an antihistamine for the rest of your life?
Well, yea you could, and there will be side effects such as chronic dry throat (thus reducing your immunity long term), but remember how I was just discussing that whole yin and yang thing and the idea of everything is relative?
Wei Qi & Immunity
From a traditional chinese medicine perspective, you and your friend would be suffering from two different forms of allergies “wei qi deficiency” that correlate to the season. Now this gets a bit complicated for some but stay with me here.
In TCM, wei qi is our defensive qi (our immunity) and when that is functioning at a lower capacity that opens up the “window” to let in these allergens that create your “seasonal allergies.” Therefore, if you and your friend were perfectly healthy individuals then you actually not get triggered by the seasons, but now that is a sign we need to dive deeper into the imbalance and this is where TCM gets to be even more exciting!
Spring has the correlation with the internal organs Liver and Gallbladder and this group is known as the “wood” element in five element theory. So what factors make this organ system not function optimally? Stress and frustration are the easiest to start with. In bloodwork, aside from testing what you are allergic to and your regular CBC with differential, we would look for AST and ALT numbers to see if there are correlations of imbalance as this would be an indication the liver is already not up to speed aside from a rise in white blood cell activity reacting to the allergens. There could also be an indication as well if there is a cholesterol imbalance such as a low HDL or a high LDL and triglycerides indicating more chronic conditions. These are just a couple examples of many connecting TCM and Biomedicine together for the Liver/Gallbladder system, thus possibly indicating the reason you would also have a lower functioning immune system in the spring and viola SEASONAL SPRING ALLERGIES!
“Well what if my bloodwork is perfect?”
Then this is when we check to see if you are stressed! Stress and anger is always the killer and cause for the majority of disease, so at times your are more frustrated especially in the spring, in TCM this “stagnates” your liver function, thus indicating your liver and gallbladder are not functioning optimally. Other emotional factors such as feeling “stuck” or feeling a “lack of direction” or “unable to make decisions” would be things to look for on a long term scale.
So what about the Summer?
Well your friend who has allergies in the summer would be suffering from a different issue. In TCM the summer correlates to the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium & San Jiao (Fluid Balance- think of lymph to keep it simple). The emotional aspect of these TCM systems have to do with the ability to separate pure from turbid (both with nutrients as well as actual decisions in life!) If someone suffers from poor sleep, anxiety, chronic mania, and/or prefers chaos in their lives (either through jobs or relationships for example) this is when we begin to dive deeper. How does this show up in biomedicine and relate to our seasonal allergies?
Well, let's really think of what the heart does The heart needs to pump blood through the arteries in order to bring oxygen to all necessary tissues right? Well, aside from our CBC with differential for our allergies, then we also want to look at what may affect the heart. We would put a larger emphasis on the Lipid Panel for the sake of the arteries, and could look into a Full Blood Count, ECG (Echocardiogram) to make sure the heart is in tip top shape. Now, what about the small intestine?
The small intestine is what is responsible for absorbing the nutrients we need from our food! So if we are not absorbing what we need or we have a gut imbalance BING BING BING then you will likely have allergies that kick up ALOT in the summer! So what additional tests could we consider here? The big symptom associated with the small intestine is borborygmi (that little gurgling sound your abdomen may make from time to time) but if it is chronic and you also feel some pain or chronic gas and bloating, listen up! It would be best to rule out gut imbalances in this case such as parasites, overgrowths (like candida) or other dietary allergens like gluten which is common, or simply consuming too much sugar! This can typically be seen from a biomedical standpoint by a simple stool test to look for any imbalances which YES, would thus make your immune function lower especially during the summer allowing more allergens to affect you!
Whew that was a lot! But, this is how allergies go much deeper than a simple “pollen season.” In theory, if everything is healthy internally, then you would have no issues from your external environment. This article was intended to explain the relationship how we can use both TCM and Biomedicine together in order to accomplish a more definitive conclusion regarding what, on the surface, may seem like no big deal. Every symptom does play a role long term, and the sooner you know how your body is functioning, the sooner you will be able to enhance your life, health and optimal performance!
Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Coach, Professor, and competitive strength athlete, Matthew Sabey Smith DACM, MSOM, LAc., Dipl.Ac,, CPT is the owner and founder of Strength Smith Training Systems LLC. With an extensive background in integrative holistic health, training and coaching, Dr. Matt uses his knowledge to help individuals improve their training, boost their recovery and maintain optimal balance as they chase their athletic, fitness and health endeavors.