Lingering Pathogens in Chinese Medicine

Lingering Pathogens in Chinese Medicine

3 November 2015 by Caitlin Armit

“I haven’t felt well since….”

“My digestion hasn’t been the same since that tummy bug last year…..”

“I’ve had swollen glands ever since that flu in Winter….”

I frequently hear people say they had a virus, perhaps a tummy bug or flu however long ago and their digestion, sinus, hearing, joints or whatever the problem is “hasn’t been the same since.” According to Chinese Medicine principles, phrases such as these may indicate the presence of a lingering pathogen.

What does ‘lingering pathogen’ mean?

Lingering pathogen is a term used to describe illnesses which mostly resolve but do not disappear completely or result in some long-term symptoms. This indicates that, for any number of reasons, the body has not been able to completely expel the pathogen. Sometimes people cannot pinpoint a specific symptom other than to say that they don’t quite feel right. Alternatively, common examples of lingering pathogens include recurrent infections, allergies, food intolerances, swollen glands, skin rashes, unexplained infertility, low-grade fevers or unusual fatigue and often these symptoms are a repetition of symptoms from original illness.

In Western Medicine, these pathogens may be viral or bacterial infections, parasites, allergens, chemicals, drugs or environmental factors. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) these pathogens are referred to as damp, heat, cold or phlegm. Bear in mind that this terminology is from a system of medicine which pre-dates Western medicine and observations of environmental factors were used as analogies for various processes in the body. These terms reflect the nature of the pathogen akin to their effect on the body i.e. heat may reflect fever, phlegm may reflect mucous and so on.


Why are lingering pathogens so hard to get rid of?

There are several reasons why lingering pathogens are difficult to put to rest.

If your body is continuing to put up a mild yet relentless fight against a pathogen this must deplete your body’s energy reserve. Your overall strength and immunity is compromised and there’s a game of tug-of-war going on between your body and the pathogen. This is worsened by the stress, busyness and overstimulation that we experience in modern lifestyles. Imagine a downward spiral as time goes on or a two steps forward and three steps back scenario. The message here is that the sooner you seek treatment for symptoms, the easier it is to treat and the better the outcomes. Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of adequate rest and lifestyle changes to benefit your health.

Another hindrance to recovery stems from medication and supplement overload. Particularly in cases of undiagnosed lingering pathogens, patients accumulate a multitude of pills and potions from various sources. Sometimes these are prescriptions for different symptoms which they have thought to be unrelated and sometimes they are simply picked off the shelf due to clever marketing (think Facebook articles or magazines), Doctor Google self diagnosis or recommendations from unqualified friends and family. I completely understand the desperation people feel to get better faster, but rarely is there a magic potion quick fix without consequences. One principle in Chinese medicine is to clear the excess symptoms and then nourish the underlying deficiency. Many medications mask symptoms (immunosuppressant) rather than resolving them and cause side effects which, in TCM, further weakens our qi or energy. For example, a medication may reduce migraines but the patient may have a lingering sensation of ‘tightness’ or ‘brain fog’ and start to notice symptoms such as dry skin, thinning hair or light sleep. The message here is that if you’re unsure if a medication or supplement you are taking is necessary for your health, seek professional advice and disclose as much information as you can so that your practitioner can help you. I often recommend that people keep a record of what they take, when they take it, how they feel, and events or changes that they notice in their body. It doesn’t need to be a ‘dear diary’ essay – just a quick note each day over a 2-month period to see if they notice any patterns.

Failure of antibiotics is another factor influencing lingering pathogens. As mentioned before, TCM refers to pathogens as ‘damp’, ‘hot’, ‘cold’ or ‘phlegm’. Antibiotics are very cold in nature and do a great job of clearing ‘heat’ but from a TCM perspective, antibiotics fail to clear the coinciding ‘phlegm’ pathogen and therefore illnesses disappear partially but then recur over and over again. According to TCM principles, the ‘cold’ nature of antibiotics weakens our digestion and depletes our qi. Antibiotics are an extremely important medication at times but if you’ve been on course after course of antibiotics and haven’t achieved results then it doesn’t make sense to keep on at something that’s not working. Trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is said to be the definition of insanity, right? The topic of antibiotic resistance is too large to cover here but there’s plenty of evidence that is acknowledged by Western Medicine researchers that indicates a need to look for solutions beyond antibiotics.


Can acupuncture help?

There are specific acupoints and herbs which allow the body to expel or clear lingering pathogens rather than simply suppressing your body’s reaction to them. A lingering pathogen is indicative of a chronic condition and therefore it can take persistence and commitment to recover completely. Results can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to become noticeable. Once the pathogen is cleared, it is important to continue treatment to build your immune system, strengthen your digestion and address other health and lifestyle factors. I see that people seek instant gratification for health problems, however our bodies are complex structures needing ongoing care and the quick fix solutions often do more harm than good.


If you can identify with the “I haven’t felt well since …..” phrase then it’s worth giving acupuncture and herbal medicine a try. 

Categories: Brisbane Acupuncture Blog | Digestive Health Brisbane | Pain Relief Brisbane | Women's Health Brisbane

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