Lurking Latent Pathogens
Gu Syndrome of Traditional Chinese Medicine
The recent occurrences of "Long Covid" has heightened the awareness of Gu Syndrome, or latent pathogens lodged in tissue and nerves deep within the body. However, Chinese medicine has recognized this condition for thousands of years and developed strategies to combat this complex condition.
Each of us is exposed to a host of pathogens each day, may they be viral, bacterial, or chemical in nature. In a state of good health, we are able to respond quickly and correctly through our immune response or other avenues of elimination when these pathogens enter our bodies. Our body is designed to help keep these pathogens and toxins from reaching the interior of our body so that damage to organs is prevented; toxins are ushered into fat tissue, fever erupts to expel viral infections, or our bodies expel bacteria quickly and efficiently through our large intestine all in an effort to keep us well.
But what happens if our bodies are too weak to appropriately rid the pathogen in a timely manner? Or what if we are exposed to a large amount of chemicals that our body cannot naturally detox through the liver, kidneys, and skin? Or if the pathogen is so virulent that it penetrates our healthy body leaving us too weak to expel it? What happens when pathogens go deeper and become lodged in our tissue and nerves? These become latent or lurking pathogens and produce symptoms that don’t go away, or more commonly, come and go over many years. They can include chronic disorders such as Epstein Barr and Lyme disease, but many are unnamed or unrecognized. This leaves patients with chronic pain, lassitude, or any number of symptoms that are not easily explained; your symptoms will depend on your genetic makeup, your constitutional imbalances, and your specific bodily deficiencies according to Chinese medicine.
- Apply the Metal Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Large Intestine 4
- Apply the Wood Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Liver 3
- Apply the Earth Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Stomach 36
- Apply the Water Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Kidney 3
- Apply the Fire Element Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point San Jiao 5
- If Cold, Apply the Moxa Acupressure Stick to Acupressure Point Ren 6
Liver Imbalances and Lurking Pathogens
The liver is dynamic in its ability to move Qi in all directions in the body. When liver function becomes constrained, there is a tendency for the liver to become “heated”. Not only does the liver function become impaired, but the liver overacts on other systems. It can affect Heart function and cause insomnia, as well as Spleen function and Large Intestine functions causing digestive difficulties. With Liver Qi constraints, there is typically an emotional imbalance causing frustration, easy anger, and even depression. Even those with latent pathogens can typically tolerate the Liver soothing herbs in our Free and Easy Wanderer formula.
Liver Damp Fire and Gu Syndrome
If Liver Qi stagnation is not addressed in a timely manner, then the Liver can continue to heat up. If there is Internal Dampness present, the two can combine to create Damp-Heat with symptoms such as red weeping rashes, inflamed joints that worsen with wet weather, or explosive BM’s. Consider Restore the Middle Way formula (if there is not a latent viral infection)
Detoxing for Toxins Lodged in the Tissues
Trying to rid the body of toxins lodged in organs and muscle tissue is much more complicated than a simple detox after Spring Break in college. You will need to work on the back-alleyway of detoxification, first being the lymphatic system. You can get lymph fluid moving with herbs such as our Central River formula. If there are any indications of internal Dampness, you must clear it with herbs that are drying because Damp accumulations will block the toxins from flowing out of the tissue. Consider Restore the Middle Way formula (if Dampness is present and there is not a latent viral infection), Free and Easy Wanderer formula, Lymph Cream, and Central River formula.
Qi Deficiency and Lurking Pathogens
Patients suffering with latent pathogens often experience bouts of severe lethargy. Their energy can become so depleted that they cannot hold down a job or care for their families on a consistent basis. It is likely that a Qi deficiency played a part in the body’s inability to eliminate the pathogen in the first place. According to TCM, if you do not have adequate Qi, you will not have adequate Wei Qi (comparable to immune system resistance).
Unfortunately, it is tricky using Qi tonic herbs which can strengthen latent pathogen and worsen the condition. In Chinese medicine, there is a saying that loosely translates to “Don’t feed the thief when he is in your house”; this explains why those with Chronic Fatigue have trouble taking Qi tonic formulas without feeling a worsening of their symptoms. On the other hand, if the body does not have adequate Qi, the body will not have enough strength to expel the pathogen. This is where herbs become vital in clearing the body completely of the pathogen. With viral pathogens, pushing the virus out of the body before trying to regain strength is essential for completely eliminating the deep boring infection. Treating the root of the problem, rather than masking symptoms, allows for long standing relief and the gift of wellness.
Internal Dampness and Lurking Pathogens
Imagine a sticky substance like phlegm adhering to every cell in your body. Most of us think of phlegm as something that is restricted to the respiratory system, however, given the right conditions, phlegm can become present throughout the body. In Chinese medicine it is said, “Gu toxins that have entered the core of a person’s being can be compared to oil seeping into flour it is everywhere and cannot be separated out.”
An example is fibromyalgia (FMS), where a pathogen is often lodged in the muscle tissue causing stagnation and pain. This is one of the factors that make FMS so difficult to treat since internal Dampness is stubborn and takes time to clear. Western medicine does not generally recognize or have a strategy for clearing Dampness from the tissues. However, this can develop in many Gu Syndrome patterns.
Other Patterns to Address:
Gu Syndrome Self-care Strategies
If you are suffering from a Gu Syndrome, your symptoms are likely cyclical and change constantly depending on many factors including your exposure to stress or overwork. However, these conditions are not necessary to see Gu symptoms come and go as the pathogens themselves will put stress on the body and consume vitality. Because of this, it is difficult to untangling symptoms and form a treatment strategy. Trying to relay these changes may make you seem vague or unclear when seeking treatment and it would not be unusual that you have gone from practitioner to practitioner receiving multiple diagnosis, but not feeling that your suffering has been believed or your symptoms validated. Patients suffering with Gu syndromes may also get temporary relief under the guidance of a practitioner and lose hope when symptoms cycle back to a flare-up.
A treatment strategy for Gu Syndrome must be flexible and must change as the symptoms change; this is a long-game plan, and one of the only ways to combat this condition. It requires that you treat what you see at the time of symptom occurrence with a long-term goal of rebuilding the body's core vital strength. One must change the thinking from seeking out that one magic cure to cultivating an adaptable acceptance that this is a deeply entrenched pathogenic condition that is going to take time and a diligent effort to expel. You will want to use the Acu-sticks on acupressure points, Qigong meditation, topical remedies, and relevant herbs on a daily basis for at least a year. Progress should be seen in a lessening of severity of symptoms over time, and fewer flare-ups overall.
Example of a Common Self-care Strategy for Gu
Chinese medicine is a complicated theoretical system that is not a quick study. This pattern of disease is one of the most complicated and difficult patterns of imbalance in the body to comprehend and to treat; it is understandable if you feel confused by the information presented here for the lay person. Additionally, it is perplexing that one would require Qi to expel pathogens but possibly cannot tolerate Qi tonic herbs during during the initial months of self-care.
Common Signs of Gu Toxins in Chinese Medicine
Because Gu syndromes deplete vital energy, it is difficult for people to seek treatment after the very early stages. Because patients rarely find answers to their health concerns during the early stages they become fatigued by running up against constant dead-ends and loose their motivation. Gu pathogens take time to infiltrate the body and grow; as they become fully established. Once entrenched in the deep tissues
of the body they tend to recede and flare over time with chronic, cyclical, recurring, wide-ranging mystery symptoms that evade clear diagnosis. Here are other common traits of Gu Syndromes:
- Patient experiences progressing state of mental and physical exhaustion possibly developing dark circles underneath the eyes
- History of protozoan infection or history of travel to tropical regions
- Complex changeable systemic condition that is resistant to textbook treatments
- Sensitivity to Qi tonic herbs and eventual development of intolerance of certain foods
- Deplete the individual in time and affects the entire organism impacting all systems of the body
- Usually includes emotional upset as it progresses and affects the Shen
- The condition is typically not easily transmitted from one person to another or contagious
Symptoms-of Gu Syndrome in Chinese Medicine
- Muscle soreness, muscle heaviness, muscle weakness, wandering body pains
- Physical heat sensations, cold night sweats
- Aversion to bright light (photo-sensitivity or even photophobia), epileptic seizures
- Chronic diarrhea, loose stools, alternating diarrhea and constipation, explosive bowel movements
- Stomach pain, abdominal bloating, abdominal cramping, intestinal bleeding and/or pus
- Nausea, poor appetite or ravenous appetite, peculiar food cravings
- Mental chaos-confusion, depression, frequent suicidal thoughts
- Flaring anger, fits of rage, unpredictable onset of strong yet volatile emotions
- Obsessive thoughts, inner restlessness, insomnia
- History of bacterial infection, viral infection, or autoimmune conditions that possibly wasn't fully resolved or correctly treated
Original Causes of Gu Syndrome in Chinese Medicine
- Lyme’s disease
- Covid 19
Another common cause of latent pathogens is incorrect treatment protocols of viral infections. According to Chinese medicine, a cold or flu is treated by releasing the pathogen to the exterior; part of this process includes opening the pours by using diaphoretic herbs that produce sweating. If an exterior pathogen is not treated properly, it can become lodged in the interior of the body. This unresolved virus can lodge itself in the muscle tissue, or, more seriously, in the organs of the body. Interestingly, antibiotics are very “cold” in nature and cold causes contraction. When antibiotics are used in the presence of an exterior pathogen the pathogen cannot move to the exterior. Anti-biotics should be avoided if possible, but they are sometimes life-saving so one may be grappling with yet another "catch-22" situation while attempting to resolve this condition.
Again, patterns of disease do not get much more complicated than addressing latent pathogens according to Chinese medicine, and you may not completely clear the pathogen on the first pass. You will know the pathogen is still lingering when you attempt to consume Qi tonics and the symptoms re-appear. While Gu syndromes require a huge amount of work to eliminate them from the body using Chinese medicine, there aren't a whole lot of other promising ways to address this chronic health malady.
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Maeda Y, Kim H, Kettner N, et al. Rewiring the primary somatosensory cortex in carpal tunnel syndrome with acupuncture. Brain. 2017;140(4):914-927.
Manheimer E, Cheng K, Linde K, et al. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2010;(1):CD001977. Accessed at https://www.cochranelibrary.comon February 24, 2016.
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Dr. Browne's Shared Insights and Experiences
A woman in her late 20's came to me with a laundry-list of health complaints including extreme fatigue and muscle pain. She had been diagnosed with Lyme disease and had undergone two rounds of antibiotic treatments without resolving the matter. We decided to concentrate on expelling the pathogen rather than running down each of the symptoms initially. For four months she applied self-acupressure and took my organic Free and Easy Wanderer formula while receiving weekly treatments.
At this point we felt as if she had expelled the pathogen; the tell-tale sign of lurking pathogens which are little red dots on her tongue had faded and she was beginning to notice some improvements. We put off scheduling more treatments as the holidays were approaching. I did not see her again for many months. I thought that she may have given up on the natural treatment strategy as many Gu Syndrome patients do; it takes a lot of energy to pursue natural care for this tenacious condition, and Qi energy is not something these patients posses in the early stages of treatment.
In late March I saw her name on my clinic schedule to my delight. When she arrived, I barely recognized her! Rather than a pale, sallow complexion, this young mother of two was radiant and bubbly with excitement. She explained that each week of the last four months she slowly kept progressing as all of the symptoms fell away one by one. She had been able to rebuild her business and was now able to fully participate in her family life. She even went back to her MD to test for Lyme which had cleared her blood according to this Lyme specialist. She came in twice for an herbal prescription and balancing, but I gladly told her that she no longer required weekly treatments. We were both pretty pleased with the outcome!