In upstate NY, we are finally in the throes of heat and humidity or what we call the dog days of summer. This is the time when thousands of people in mainland China are lining up at special clinics in their local hospitals to start herbal plaster therapy, or fu tie, for chronic asthma and other respiratory diseases.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is common knowledge that the best time to treat a chronic winter disease is during the hottest time of the year.
In summer the yang (hot) energy of the universe is at its peak and the yin (cold) energy is at its lowest point. Chinese medicine believes that the human body is a microcosm of the universe, and therefore the same principal holds true. People who suffer from pulmonary disorders that are aggravated by cold weather typically are constitutionally deficient of yang energy and therefore susceptible to an invasion of pathogenic cold. Summer is the best time to strengthen the yang energy of the body.
The treatment for asthma involves applying an herbal paste to acupuncture points on the upper back. Chinese herbs that are warm in nature or have the function to eliminate phlegm are used in the preparations. One such formula grinds equal amounts of bai jie zi, yan hu suo, gan sui, and xi xin into a powder and moistens the mixture with ginger juice to form a paste. Cakes the size of a quarter are positioned over acupuncture points, covered with gauze and tape and left in place for three to four hours. Because the pores of the skin are open during this hot time of year, the medicinal properties of the herbs are more readily absorbed into the body.
Bai Jie Zi, or mustard seed, may not be a surprise ingredient to those of you who have listened to elders describe the use of mustard plasters as home remedies to treat pulmonary disorders. In TCM, bai jie zi is an herb that warms the Lung and disperses phlegm. Yan hu suo, or corydalis, is an herb that activates blood circulation. Gan sui, or euphorbia root, has the function of eliminating phlegm. Xi xin, or wild ginger, is a warm acrid herb that enters the Lung meridian to warm the Lung and resolve phlegm. All of these herbs expel cold from the body and improve the yang energy to ward off cold related illness in the winter.
Acupuncture points commonly used are DU14, UB12, UB13 and UB43. DU14 is the meeting point of the Governing vessel with all six yang meridians in the body. DU14, located below the spinous process of the C7 vertebra, has a strong action of tonifying defensive qi and yang energy. We can think of this as strengthening the immune system. UB12, located an inch and a half lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the second thoracic vertebra (T2), is a meeting point of the Bladder channel with the Governing vessel. It also has the function of strengthening the immune system. UB13, located an inch and a half lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of the third thoracic vertebra (T3), is the Back Shu point of the Lung. It is an essential point to tonify the Lung qi and nourish the Lung yin. UB43 is located three inches lateral to the spinous process of the fourth thoracic vertebra (T4). This point tonifies and nourishes the Lung, Heart, Kidneys, Spleen and Stomach. It is a point that is able to treat severe deficiency of the Lung. Another indication of this point is to resolve phlegm.
Blisters may form as a result of this treatment. If this happens an antibiotic cream should be used to prevent infection.
Three treatments per summer for three consecutive summers can significantly reduce the severity of asthmatic symptoms, possibly even cure the disease. The actual treatment days vary slightly each year according to the lunar calendar and the summer solstice. The “san fu”, or three hot periods, run between July 14th and August 22nd with the optimal days for treatment this year being July 14th, July 24th and August 13th.
About the Author: Joyce Marley is a licensed acupuncturist who provides acupuncture therapy in New Hartford, NY. She writes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) health articles about acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.