In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the kidney system has a wider function than that of the Western anatomical kidney, regarding it as the root of life and the origin of our individuality as human beings. TCM considers the kidney to be the most important organ of the body since it performs functions pertaining to the genital, urinary, endocrine, skeletal, blood, and central nervous systems.
One of the main tasks of the kidney in TCM is controlling the growth and development and reproduction of the body. Besides the sex glands, other endocrine glands like hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal and thyroid are all involved actively in the growth and development of the body, as a result, according to the TCM understanding of the kidney, the modern concept of the endocrine system belongs to part of TCM kidney functioning.
The endocrine system produces and secretes hormones, which are chemical messengers for coordinating physiological activities. The hypothalamus and pituitary, which are located in the brain, act as a higher control; they regulate the secretions of the adrenal glands, thyroid, breasts, ovaries, uterus, testicles and prostate. The secretions then bind to specific receptors in the target structures triggering various physiological actions.
Some of the endocrine glands work together and form a complex regulating network named "functional axis", which are important to maintain the normal physiology of the body. The three commonly describe functional axes are the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal, the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid and the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonad. Disturbances in the regulating systems lead to endocrine diseases such as hyperthyroidism, endometriosis, missed periods and infertility.
Western medicine tries to solve these conditions by hormonal therapies, while TCM will use a wide variety of herbs to regulate the endocrine functions.
1. Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis This functional axis controls stress reactions and regulates bodily processes including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, energy storage and expenditure. Dysfunctions of this axis can lead to mood disorders and functional illnesses, such as anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and alcoholism.
2. Hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis This axis mainly controls the body's metabolism, the rate at which the body converts food and oxygen into energy. Under-functioning will cause weight gain and fatigue, and may be attributed to ageing, missed periods or depression. Hyper-functioning will cause nervousness, insomnia and heart palpitations.
3. Hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis This axis maintains the normal physiology of the female and male reproductive systems. Endocrine disorders in a woman's reproductive system can lead to menstrual problems, endometriosis, delayed puberty, polycystic ovary syndrome, and sexual problems as well as infertility and breast problems.
The effects of the herbs mentioned in this section have mostly been demonstrated through in-vitro or in-vivo studies; further clinical studies are necessary to evaluate their actions in the human body. It should also be kept in mind that TCM physicians rarely use herbs singly, as the herbs may contain potent or multiple active components; they are often given as one ingredient in a prescription so as to accentuate the therapeutic strengths and reduce the undesirable effects of that particular herb.
These and other Traditional Chinese practices all form part of TCM, each adding a little to the history and methodology of Acupuncture and Herbs.
Eca Brady is a fully licensed physician of Chinese Medicine BSc(Ac) MBAcC PGDip(CHM), practicing Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs from Harley Street, London. Make an appointment for an acupuncture treatment and we can discuss how we can help you, to read more about Eca click here.