Smelling Disease

Many of the diagnostic methods used in Traditional Japanese acupuncture are based on the practitioner using their physical sensory organs to detect changes and imbalances in their patients.

For example, diagnosis by smelling body odours is a fundamental technique and was recorded in medical textbooks over 2,000 years ago.

Certain odours were linked to particular organs according to Five Phase theory:

  • Liver – rancid, like raw meat
  • Heart – scorched, like burnt cooking
  • Spleen-Pancreas – fragrant, like sweet incense
  • Lung – fleshy, like fish
  • Kidney – rotten, like fermenting food

Nowadays, even with the widespread use of perfume, deodorant, toothpaste, and other hygiene products which can mask the body’s natural odours, observing scents can still provide useful information for diagnosis and acupuncture treatment.

It is interesting to note then that modern medical science is attempting to also make use of smells in diagnosing disease. For example, there is new research into odour-based early detection of ovarian cancer using high-tech sensors to capture the signature “smells” of certain cancer-related cells taken from blood samples of patients. It is hoped that someday these types of screenings might provide earlier warning and detection than is possible with current conventional testing.

Perhaps on closer examination and study, many of the time-tested concepts of Traditional Oriental Medicine aren’t so strange after all.

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