Digestion, The Microbiome and The Misuse of Antibiotics: How Acupuncture and Moxibustion Rectifies Poor Digestion
In Chinese Medicine, the spleen and stomach are pivotal to the digestive process. The stomach receives our food and is referred in classical texts as “the sea of grain and water.” After the food enters the stomach, it is “steamed” by the influence of stomach Qi. The main role of the spleen is to suck or extract the vital essence of our food to provide nourishment to the body. The dregs are discarded downwards and eliminated as waste. Another vital role of the spleen is to provide a healthy appetite and engender the sense of taste. There is an emotional influence related to each organ system in Chinese Medicine. For the spleen, excessive worry or pensiveness weakens its digestive power. Because the spleen is ruled by the earth element we may risk damage to our digestive Qi if we feel ungrounded or eat in a hurried or distracted mental state. An example of this is dashboard dining or eating lunch at our desk while working. Therefore eating in a relaxed state is very important.
Current research shows a direct link between the gut and the brain, calling our gastrointestinal system “the second brain.” Also, recent studies appearing in the journal BioEssays explore how bacteria in our gut may manipulate our behavior by influencing both dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. This gives gravitas to the term “gut feeling.” Almost weekly The New York Times features an article on probiotics, antibiotic misuse and the microbiome.
Much has been said about the bacteria that resides in our gastrointestinal system, home to over 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as the microbiome. The bacteria or microbes that reside in our bodies provide a strong defense by effectively battling invaders from the outside. The microbes in your gut differ from the ones present in your mouth or gums and on the skin. It has been determined that 99% of our unique genes in the body are bacterial with only 1% being human. A recent study in Europe showed that bacterial genes in a persons G.I. system vary greatly. Those with a fewer number of genes tend to be obese.
Dr. Martin Blaser, in his book Missing Microbes, notes that ubiquitous disorders such as heartburn, GERD, Crohn’s disease, heartburn, ulcerative colitis, diabetes asthma, eczema and even gluten intolerance are linked to a compromised microbiome. In his scientific studies he found that individuals who lack the bacteria helicobacter pylori were more likely to have the above ailments. While H. pylori has often been considered a “bad” microbe or a pathogenic microbe that we were better off without  Dr. Blaser now hypothesizes that the presence of H. pylori can enhance the integrity of the microbiome, co-existing with 1,000’s of other types of bacteria.
The misguided tendency to prescribe full spectrum antibiotics, in addition to the prolific use of antibiotics in the meat/dairy industry, has wrecked havoc on our immune systems. Subsequently, antibiotic resistant diseases continue to rise. This is significant because secondary bacterial infections, often while contracted in the hospital following recovery from routine procedures can prove to be dire. This year antibiotic resistant infections will kill more than 23,000 people and make another two million sick. Many young adults who are now in their 20’s and 30’s will have taken over 30 courses of antibiotics by the time they turn 40.
Both science and Chinese Medicine acknowledge the role of our G.I. system in maintaining our health. You might have experienced the phenomena of not falling ill from a meal, while others who ate the same food, fell victim to food poisoning, resulting in vomiting and/or diarrhea. Classical Chinese Medicine texts explain the above scenario by saying “those with deficiency will fall ill.” Therefore, the people who didn’t become sick are said to have robust Qi or strong immune systems.
Through lack of sleep, stress, overwork, frequent antibiotic use, improper diet and lack of exercise we become weakened and increasingly vulnerable to illness. The use of acupuncture and moxibustion (the burning of the plant named artemesia indirectly or directly on the skin) have a proven track record to regulate digestion as well as strengthening immunity. Both the N.I.H. and W.H.O. now recognize this. Scientific studies have shown that burning rice grain-sized cones of moxa on the skin increases cellular immunity, regulates blood sugar levels, and positively impacts both red and white blood cell counts.
In my private practice I have seen great results from the exclusive use of acupuncture and moxibustion therapy. I have successfully treated nausea, GERD, bloating, abdominal/intestinal pain, Crohn’s disease, IBS, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, constipation, diarrhea and leaky gut syndrome. Recently, a male patient of age 48 was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, which caused bloating and lower abdominal pain. Following my treatment of only acupuncture and moxibustion (no herbs or enzymes) he was able to resume a regular diet of foods containing gluten, without any repercussions. My approach was to strengthen the integrity of the body rather than have him eat a very restricted diet for the rest of his life. Another patient with type 2 diabetes came to me for an unscheduled treatment because of elevated glucose levels. As I was quite busy at the time, I was only able to perform direct moxibustion on a major immune enhancing point (Stomach 36).
I burned seven small cones on Stomach 36. The patient reported that not only did her blood sugar level return to normal that evening, but also remained stable the following morning.
A proper acupuncture treatment is painless, incorporates the use of moxa, while both increasing vitality and inducing a state of tranquility. I often give my patients moxa “homework” in which they apply simple, inexpensive treatments at home to further enhance their health while receiving treatments at my office.
In recent decades, the number of people diagnosed with gluten intolerance, allergies and asthma has risen dramatically. Why not enhance the body’s own adaptogenic capabilities rather than be complacent with the Western medicine paradigm? Martin J. Blaser, M.D., Missing Microbes, 2014.