Causes of Disease – Part 2: Emotions and the Body

As was previously seen in Part 1, Eastern medicine has long observed that our emotional states can have a significant impact on our health.

However, which comes first? Is it an imbalance in the body that produces negative emotions, or is it the emotions having an effect on the body?

Traditional Oriental Medicine doesn’t draw artificial boundaries between the body, mind, and spirit, but instead sees a close connection between them. Specific emotional states correspond to particular physical organs in the body; an imbalance in one area can affect all other aspects of our health and often cannot be described in a simple cause-and-effect manner.

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For example, the Liver system, which in Eastern medicine regulates the blood and energy circulation throughout the body, is linked to anger, frustration, irritability, and other similar feelings.

In certain situations such as the mood swings and irritability often associated with PMS, the physiological changes occurring within the body are disrupting the Liver system and its ability to properly regulate the emotions.

For other situations, emotional stressors appear to be a primary cause or trigger for the physical symptoms as is frequently seen in gastrointestinal disorders including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and colitis.

Diagnosis and treatment can vary depending on each individual case. For example, some patients have a more nervous temperament with a tendency towards over-thinking, worry, and anxiety, which according to Eastern medicine often indicates a weakness in the Spleen-Pancreas system that needs to be strengthened and supported.

For other people, stress, frustration, unresolved anger, or other similar emotions are the more dominant ones and can exert a negative influence on the digestive system according to the Restraining Cycle of the Five Phases and so it’s the Liver system that needs to be calmed and more properly regulated.

These types of emotional imbalances are also commonly seen when dealing with children’s health issues with a specialized form of pediatric acupuncture known as Shonishin. For example, there are some cases of infant colic that don’t receive much noticeable improvement with the typical dietary recommendations usually indicated, but the symptoms are resolved when the emotional components are addressed using appropriate treatment.

In yet other complicated cases such as anxiety and depression, Eastern medicine recognizes both a physical and a mental component to the conditions, with imbalances in the body affecting the emotions and the out-of-balance emotions likewise having a direct effect on the body, sometimes leading to a mutually-reinforcing downward spiral.

Because of Traditional Oriental Medicine’s wholistic approach to health, treatment modalities including acupuncture and moxibustion can be an integral part of therapy due to their balancing and regulating influence on the entire person, not just on the physical body.

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