Traditional Chinese Medicine for Lupus

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Eastern and Western Medicine Approaches Yield Different Results

Since the protocols and scientific concepts that govern western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine vary greatly, I would like to introduce lupus erythematosus from two different viewpoints.

Western Medicine

Systemic lupus erythematosus, like rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s disease-fighting mechanisms have somehow gone awry. With this disease, antibodies that should attack disease-causing agents such as viruses, bacteria, and allergens instead attack the body’s own tissues, causing a wide variety of signs and symptoms.

General Symptoms

The symptoms of lupus vary greatly from patient to patient, the most common being joint inflammation, usually occurring in the knuckles, wrists, and knees. The arthritis of lupus is less severe than rheumatoid arthritis, and it seldom produces joint damage or deformity. Skin rashes also occur in a majority of patients; the ‘butterfly’ rash, which covers the nose and cheeks, is a particularly distinguishing sign, but both rashes and joint inflammation may appear in any part of the body.

Other signs and symptoms include low grade fever, fatigue, persistent swollen lymph nodes, unusual sensitivity to sunlight, loss of weight and appetite, loss of hair, and ulceration in the mouth and nose. The kidneys are affected in a majority of cases, but the severity of kidney involvement varies widely, from mild dysfunction apparent only in laboratory tests to complete kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplant of a healthy kidney.

Lupus also causes pleurisy (inflammation of the pleura, the membrane that covers the lungs) and inflammation of both the inner and outer membranes of the heart (endocarditis and pericarditis). Occasionally, lupus affects the central nervous system, causing seizures and psychotic symptoms.

As the most common symptoms of lupus are similar to those of rheumatic fever or rheumatoid arthritis, a doctor will sometimes misdiagnose. Laboratory tests are also often utilized to detect signs of immune system dysfunction characteristic of the disease.

Lupus runs an unpredictable course. In most patients, symptom-free periods alternate with periods when symptoms flare. These symptoms are often mild enough that many patients experience them for years without detecting a pattern or discovering their cause.

Western Medical Treatment

For mild symptoms, anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin are the first choice. Those who find aspirin hard to tolerate may take other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Both can reduce inflammation and ease joint pain, but both also have side effects.

If anti-inflammatory drugs fail to relieve symptoms, corticosteroids may be used. Oral corticosteroids are often prescribed for arthritis and kidney problems, and cortico-steroid ointments are applied topically to rashes. These medications have serious side effects. Antimalarial drugs, derived from quinine, are an alternative to steroids in patients who cannot tolerate or benefit from other anti-inflammatory durgs.

Antimalarials are particularly effective against skin rashes, and can also relieve arthritis. Like steroids however, antimalarial drugs have serious side effects and so are reserved for more difficult cases.
Immunosuppressant drugs, which inhibit the immune response, are helpful for some patients. These drugs, which carry a risk of dangerous side effects, are commonly used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs; usually, they are reserved for patients who have failed to respond to other treatments or who are experiencing intolerable steroid side effects.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Since the science concepts and special terminology regarding Traditional Chinese Medicine are so different from western medicine, some concepts must be introduced. Below are listed the symptoms that show up for all six types of imbalance common to the condition of lupus:

1) Kidney yin deficiency: symptoms include night sweats, thinning or loss of hair, sore back, menstrual disorders; ringing in the ears; tongue proper – the color is red; pulse – fine, hollow and rapid.
2) Kidney yang deficiency: symptoms include day sweats or automatic sweats; dislike of cold; weak back; no menstrual period or light period; tongue – colour is light; tongue shape – enlarged.
3) Lung yin deficiency: symptoms include dry cough; sore throat; afternoon fever; tongue and pulse symptoms similar to kidney yin deficiency.  When the disease progresses, it will lead into kidney yin deficiency.
4) Liver deficiency: symptoms include headache; joint pain; numbness of the limbs; blurred vision; menstrual period could be light, or the colour is light; tongue colour is light; pulse is hollow.
5) Spleen deficiency: symptoms include lack of appetite; fullness of stomach; fatigue; swollen face; tongue colour is very light or white; tongue coating – thin; pulse is hollow.
6) Liver stagnation: symptoms include irritability, frustration; angers easily, menstrual period is usually heavy; tongue colour is dull; pulse is wiry or tight.

These six types of imbalance can show individually, or in combination. For example, the symptoms of kidney yin deficiency can combine with those of spleen deficiency. (Note that people who suffer from lupus present the same general symptoms to both western modern medicine and TCM practitioners, the exception being there is no such term as ‘lupus’ in Chinese medicine.)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, lupus is mainly viewed as stemming from internal injury, from the seven emotions; a simple term is ‘emotional distress.’ I use acupuncture and Chinese herbs to treat this disease – with good results, but there is no standard formula. The treatment has to be based on which types of imbalance are present, and it must take into account the fact that a patient’s symptoms can change, and that each individual’s condition is unique and must be treated accordingly. In some cases the herbal dosage prescribed will be light; in others very heavy.

A common misunderstanding is that all herbs are natural, and therefore have no side effects. The truth is that the wrong formula applied to the wrong situation will adversely affect the course of the disease, and may actually harm the patient. When I was living in California, I had helped a patient who had ties to a pharmaceutical company. After treatment, the patient’s parents were so impressed with his recovery that they approached me with a proposal to mass produce what they called my “secret Chinese recipe” and sell it to the public. I refused the offer because it is against both my own personal philosophy and Chinese medical theory.

1. The formula for kidney yin deficiency is based on the ‘Six Taste’ Formula which was invented by a great herbal doctor, Ching Yue, from the Zong Dynasty about a thousand years ago. He was the governor of the department of health. His idea was from Zhang Chong Giang, a great herbal master who lived about 2,300 years ago. Even now, the whole Chinese herbal medical field from around the world cannot find another person to replace him. He is the inventor of the profound ‘six channel’ diagnosis technique, which has saved a lot of lives. Ingredients are: Rehmania Root 28% Alisma Rhizome 10 Cornus Fruit 14 Paeonia Root 10; Dioscorea Rhizome 14 Poria Fungus 10. The acupuncture point is Taixi stream point Kidney 3 X 2 needles with both sides. Technique: tonification method

2. The formula for kidney yang deficiency is the ‘Golden Cabinet Kidney Qi’ Formula. The ingredients are based on the ‘six taste’ formula with two extra herbs which are: Cinnamon Bark 3.7 and Aconite Carmichaeli Debx 3.7. This formula can be used for a patient who suffers from ACTH insufficiency and who does not have organic damage at the adrenal gland. The acupuncture point is the same as above, plus Mingmen life door. Technique: no needle, just moxibustion with moxa rolls

3. The formula for lung yin deficiency is based on the ‘Six Taste’ Formula with three extra herbs which are: Ningpo Figwort Root 5% Baical Skullcap Root 5 Fritillaria Cirrhosa D.Don 8. The acupuncture point is the same as for no. 1, plus Xiabai lung 4 X 2 needles. Technique: tonification

4. The formula for liver deficiency is the ‘Four Object’ Formula. The reason I use this formula is because the yin organ stores 2/3 of the body’s blood. Whenever there is a blood deficiency, we can use this formula. According to the yin and yang concept, object is a fundamental substance; in humans, blood belongs to yin. The ingredients are: Angelica sinensis (Oliv.) Diels 30%  Rehmania glutinosa (Gaertn.) 30 Ligusticum wallichii franch 20 Paeoniae Lactiflorae, Radix 20. The acupuncture points are Taichong liver 3 X 2 needles, and Sanyinjiao (3 negative joint) spleen 6 X 2 needles. Technique: tonification

5. The formula for spleen deficiency is the ‘Four Gentlemen’ Formula. The ingredients are: Radix Ginseng 30% Atractylodes macrocephala koidz.30. Poria cocos (Schw.) Wolf 20 Radix Glycyrrhizae (Licorice Root) 20. The acupuncture points are Yinlingquan spleen 9 X 2 needles, and Taichong liver . Technique: tonification

6. The formula for liver stagnation is the ‘Smooth Liver’ Formula. The ingredients are: Paeonia Root 20% Citrus Peel 12 Amomum Fruit 15 Saussurea Root 12 Cardamon Fruit 15 Magnolia Bark 12 Corydalis Rhizome 14. The acupuncture point is Xingjian liver 2 X 2 needles Technique: tonification

I would like to offer the following poem to those who suffer from this disease.

Move Forward

Happiness is an inside job.
Action is better than empty talk.
Most diseases are formed by negative emotion.
Throw it away!  Leave the negative situation!
The past is the past.  Life is short.
Live for the present and plan for the future.
Courage is resistant to fear.
Find your way, my friend.
Move forward!


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  1. D
    May 28, 23:20 Dr. Doug Werner

    Well done, Dr. Fung!

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