After completing my education in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I returned home to central NY faced with the decision of where to set up my acupuncture practice. My husband, who had been quite busy running our family orchard business and waiting patiently for my return, suggested that I use some space behind the apple grading room and run my practice on the farm. I definitely knew that that was not the serene and professional image that I was going for! “Aw, c’mon”, he said. “You can call it your apple-puncture clinic, and we can have a new slogan – “come in for a prick and a peck!”
My husband has a weird sense of humor. But, “a prick and a peck” does prompt me to think about the differences between the philosophies of western and eastern medicine.
As a member of the NY Apple Association, they provided us with a display poster for our farm stand. It proclaims the nutritional value of the apple. Did you know that the apple contains 85 calories, has no fat or cholesterol, is low in sodium and fat and is a good source of fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals? Western culture analyzes our food at the molecular level, just like we analyze our bodies to diagnose disease. There is the old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but as a society we are slow in taking the role of diet seriously in preventative health care.
Chinese medicine on the other hand, has evolved over thousands of years. Its roots are based on observations of phenomena in nature. Everything in the universe, including the human body, can be described in terms of yin and yang. Yin refers to anything that is solid, cool, substantial, moist or passive in nature. Yang refers to anything that is warm, energized, dry, active or outgoing in nature. In a normal state of health, there is a delicate balance of yin and yang. When yin and yang are in balance, energy or qi flows freely through the body, and we feel well physically and emotionally.
Food and herbs are the medicine of the Chinese culture and proper diet helps maintain the balance of yin and yang in respect to our individual body constitutions, as the seasons change and as we age. Food is categorized in terms of its thermal qualities and associated taste. Each taste – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and pungent – has a therapeutic effect on a specific organ in the body.
The apple is categorized as cool in nature and sweet and sour in taste. Because of its cooling property, in Chinese medicine, it therefore is recognized for clearing heat from the body, especially what the Chinese call “summer heat”. Summer heat is a condition where the body is exposed to extreme heat and becomes dehydrated – similar to what we refer to as sunstroke. Sweet taste is associated with the Spleen/Stomach. Apples stimulate the appetite and are good for digestion. The sour taste is associated with the Liver/Gallbladder. Apples, which contain pectin reduce cholesterol and can soften gallstones. In Chinese medicine the Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of energy in the body. When the Liver qi is obstructed we are irritable and depressed. Apples have been shown to be beneficial in mild cases of depression.
In Chinese medicine, each organ is also related to a specific orifice. The Liver “opens to the eye”. In Chinese medicine, vision problems usually have an association with Liver imbalances. Grated apple placed in a compress over the eye will reduce the swelling of pink eye – another reason why the apple and its sour taste relate to the Liver organ.
Culturally, Chinese medicine places a much greater emphasis on using acupuncture and diet as preventative medicine. In China, a doctor was valued more for keeping his patients healthy than treating them when they were ill!