Causes of Disease
Causes of Disease in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Do you sometimes feel as though your health is like a lottery; some people are lucky with good health, while others are struck down by a terrible disease?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this “lottery theory” has credence; Ancestral Qi, or DNA, influences your probability of falling victim to disease. At the same time, you could have great Ancestral Qi and make poor lifestyle choices that create disease. Even if you have a familial disposition to disease, you can choose to practice Qi Gong exercises, eat whole foods, and using tonic herbs as preventative and corrective strategies to create healthy aging and good health throughout your life.
Chinese medicine is a complex system that relies on many methods to keep the body in “balance”. If the body is in harmony or balance, it is able to resist pathogens (agents that produce disease) and will not develop chronic diseases that will lead to premature aging and degeneration. Wellness in Chinese medicine does not simply refer to an absence of disease; rather, a healthy person is happy, healthy and pain-free. There is an understanding in Chinese medicine that wellness is a natural state and illness is the result of any number of influences. In an effort to understanding how to obtain wellness, we will explore how a person can develop diseases and imbalances.
Emotions Causing Disease According to Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medical theory, one of the major internal causes of disease is the Seven Emotions: anger, worry, fear, fright, anxiety, grief, and joy. All of these emotions are normal and everyone experiences them at different times. They can only cause disease and injure the vital organs if the emotional responses are out of normal proportion or deficient in response to the situation, or they are chronic in nature. Likewise, if an organ system becomes deficient or out of balance, the related emotions can occur chronically; it is often the "chicken or the egg" dilemma trying to determine if a bodily imbalance caused abnormal emotional response, or if the emotions damaged the organ system. All of the emotions originate in the Heart, and serious emotional disorders are considered “Heart Shen” disorders.
If someone walks up to you and slaps you in the face, you would likely be angry for a few hours and then move on with your life. If you do not become angry when attacked by another, that could show an imbalance. If you carry anger around for weeks, or even worse, years, that anger will begin to affect the Liver Function and the physical health of the Liver. Liver imbalances can include other emotional traits in addition to anger such as short temper, frustration, lack of vision, inability to plan and strategies, feeling stuck, depression, inflexibility, or lack of courage.
It is normal to worry from time to time if the children are out late, or the husband is trying out the new grill, or your plane ride runs into turbulence. However, when worry turns to obsessing and your mind won’t turn away from the question, “…but what if”, then worry could damage the Spleen Function of the body. Likewise, Spleen Deficiency can lead to excessive worry. In Chinese medicine the Spleen is much more complex than western medicine; it is in charge of the transportation of foods and fluids and works closely with the Stomach in its digestive capacity. Worry is also implied with any over thinking or very heavy study patterns that can also damage the Spleen over time. Other emotional traits that are associated with Spleen imbalances would include inability to be empathetic, inability to nurture other, eating disorders, obesity, or not feeling grounded.
Fear, Fright and Anxiety
Fear and anxiety are produced by your own thoughts and the mind's ability to speculate on possible negative outcomes of a situation. Fright is produced by a shock, such as a dog trying attacking you, or extreme sport opportunities such as skydiving and is normal in those circumstances. Prolonged exposure to fear will damage the Kidney System in Chinese medicine. Likewise, Kidney Deficiency and Kidney imbalances can manifest in to anxiety, panic attacks, sexual disorders and lack of willpower. Even the lack of awe, such as the inability to appreciate a beautiful sunset, is a sign that the Kidney System is not functioning to its fullest capacity.
Grief and Sadness
The normal response to loss is grief. When we are unable to pass through all of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), we become energetically stuck. If we are stuck in grief for a long period of time, it will begin to damage the Lung Function. Other traits of Lung imbalances could include sadness, low self-esteem, lack of boundaries, inability to “let go”, lack of structure or too much structure, rigid belief systems, or critical judgment of others.
This reference is about happiness, and our ability to experience joy depends on Heart health. Out of balance joy can manifest as mania, as in manic-depressive disorders. When people are manic, there is allot of harmful heat in the heart and the Heart Function is damaged over time. The Heart is actually the origin of all of the emotions and has to be addressed any time there is an emotional disorder. Other signs of Heart Function disorders could include a lack of emotional warmth, a lack of sexual desire or excessive sexual desire, insomnia, sleep disorders and hatred.
External Causes of Disease in Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, everything in the universe is interconnected. Therefore, changes in the universe, such as weather, influence humans. Weather is characterized by six external energies that can cause disharmony in the body. They are known as the Six Pathogenic Factors. These pathogenic factors are opportunistic and can only cause disease when our immune systems are weakened.
- Wind causes symptoms that wander and change.
- Cold causes sudden onset of symptoms of chilliness, headache, and body aches.
- Damp causes sluggishness, lethargy, sticky discharges.
- Heat and Fire symptoms include fever, inflammation, constipation, and dry skin.
- Summer Heat (heat stroke) depletes Qi and Body Fluids, which can cause dehydration and exhaustion.
- Dryness is closely related to Heat but involves more drying of bodily fluids. Symptoms include dry eyes, dry nose, dry mouth, and dry cough.
- Toxins are a more recent addition to the list of six external causes of disease. Toxins are virulent pathogens that are not associated with climactic factors and can attack even the normally resistant individual.
Other Major Causes of Disease in TCM
Chinese medicine has recognized the influence of familial disease patterns for thousands of years and practitioners have inquired about family history long before DNA was discovered. Some people are under the false perception that genetic imbalances cannot be positively influenced. Just as a change in diet and exercise can improve the prognosis of the offspring of a heart attack patient, Chinese tonic herbs and other medical techniques can improve the prognosis for all types of genetically related diseases.
Improper eating habits can cause imbalances in many organ systems. Good eating habits are generally well understood in our culture with recent interest in wellness being a popular topic in the media. Organic, whole foods are always a good idea. Chinese medicine would advise against any excesses such as too much salt which would damage the Kidney function or too many spicy foods that may damage the lungs. Also, iced drinks, excessive raw foods and juices can cause Dampness and damage the Spleen function.
Proper exercise is important in keeping Blood and Qi flowing. Brisk walking, qigong, tai qi and yoga are the preferred types of exercise in Chinese medicine. Vigorous exercise or very hard physical work can cause imbalances and should be avoided.
The lack of sexual desire would indicate an imbalance of the Heart Function and Kidney Function. Too much sexual activity can drain the Kidney energy especially for men. Childbirth can be draining for women's Kidney energy.
Having sound sleep during the night is a vital part of maintaining wellness in Chinese medicine. Broken sleep patterns, wakefulness at night, or lack of sleep are all reason for concern.