Chinese Medicine

Over the past few years, I have increasingly noticed how the left side of my body seems dysfunctional at times. For instance, I started growing grey hair exclusively on one side of my head. My left leg is constantly enervated and sensitive to acupuncture points. Between my two kidneys I often feel a sense of asymmetry. While for the most part I couldn’t feel the existence of my right kidney, my left kidney often gets a tingling or even a shredding feeling, for lack of better terms. I have had kidney stone during early graduate school about 7 years ago. It was a tiny piece that came out naturally through urination in the end, but definitely wreaked havoc when I woke up to enormous pain around the abdomen. The doctors and nurses at the emergency room made a quick and accurate diagnosis, but left me without water for half a day just to be completely sure that it was indeed kidney stone, while I lay on the gurney in morpheme-muffled pain. Had I been given water earlier, the acute pain would have been washed away through urination, and spared of the morpheme. But that incidence was not the earliest manifestation of my one-sided malady; kidney weakness had occurred to me even during elementary school. The influence of my father, and surrounding herbal medical culture in China certainly made me more cognizant of the role of kidney in my overall health. The notion of selling one’s own kidney for a living that arose in cinematic works always made me cringe. An English-Chinese bilingual anthology of marvelous anecdotes meant as a ESL reading also mentioned that the adrenal gland shrinks irreversibly as one ages. But it was not until more recently that I start to take kidney health more seriously.

Today my wife suggested that I should give moxibustion a try. This is one of the few oriental treatments she subscribes too, mainly in the context of Gynecology. Thus for 15 dollars we bought a moxibustion box burner together with the moxa incense. With her help, I then lit the moxa inside the burner and fastened the whole thing next to my ShenShu acupuncture point, which is at the same height as the belly button, but on the back, 1.5 chinese inches away from the spine. For one brief moment my left kidney seemed to get a jump start of fresh blood. But after that there was no apparent physiological response, possibly because the cloth pocket insulated too much heat from my skin. Overall the procedure seems pretty harmless, and the proclaimed effect of increasing blood flow to the organs actually makes scientific sense. Whether or not the moxa is doing anything is unclear, but the heat certainly helps. I plan to stick to the routine 2-3 times a week and assess the benefit.

Western medical literature claims almost all positive effects of moxibustion documented in past studies are due to publication bias. While there is definitely truth to that, one often overlooks the fact that western medicine has pretty simple-minded metrics to gauge success, through something as mechanical as p-value. It is nearly impossible to experiment on long term effects, just like in my own work we kept chasing short term measurable gains, but rarely look at long term benefits to the users. Those latter objectives are usually reserved for top executives, so there is much less science involved.

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About aquazorcarson

math PhD at Stanford, studying probability
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