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HIV Wellness: Living Well with HIV
By: Dr. Misha Ruth Cohen, OMD, L.Ac.

Date Published: 04-18-2006

Turning Point Acupuncture is pleased to be able to reproduce this excellent article about treating HIV disease from a Chinese Medical perspective. Dr. Cohen is a colleague of Dr. Rabinowitz - both started their careers in the world-renowned substance abuse treatment facility at Lincoln Hospital (in the South Bronx of New York) where acupuncture for detoxification was pioneered. Some of the very first people with AIDS were treated with acupuncture at Lincoln starting as early as 1980.
Dr. Rabinowitz published an article early in the epidemic:

Rabinowitz N. Acupuncture and the AIDS epidemic: Reflections on the Treatment of 200 patients in four years American Journal of Acupuncture vol.15, n. 1 1987 pp.35-42
Blending East and West: Creating a Program that Works.

I am convinced that people with HIV infection can create the most effective treatment program by combining Chinese and Western medicine under the umbrella of the Chinese philosophy of healing. When used together wisely, they provide the best chance for prolonged survival and minimal complications. That's why, no matter what symptoms a person has, when someone comes to me for treatment I help them create a comprehensive program to restore balance to the mind/body/spirit as a whole. In addition, when called for, I also focus of providing symptomatic relief.

Sometimes that means suggesting Western and other therapies in addition to Chinese medicine. I believe strongly you do anything you can to help an individual create wholeness and wellness in their life.

For example, when someone comes to the clinic with diarrhea, we will run a Western stool test at a special laboratory called Great Smokies to see if the diarrhea is being caused by organisms which can be treated by antibiotics, herbal formulas and/or nutritional supplements. When I receive the results, I will consult with the person's Western doctor to determine if antibiotics are the best solution, or if we can proceed with herbal formulas and nutritional supplements alone. Often we design a protocol using all three treatments.

At the same time, I will use Chinese medicine to restore balance to the mind/body/spirit and when necessary to help alleviate potentially toxic side effects of the Western medicine. I've observed that when Western drug therapy causes anemia, Chinese blood tonics and vitalizers often help reverse the reaction.

There are circumstances when we may not use Western therapy at all. Chronic sinusitis is especially suited to a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine. And neuropathy can be treated quite well using acupuncture, moxibustion, massage and in some cases herbs.

Choosing the most appropriate therapy or combination of therapies to restore harmony to the whole mind/body/spirit gives the person with HIV/AIDS an opportunity to put together a powerful regimen of healing.

A View from the East

Toward understanding Chinese medicine and its ability to improve the treatment of people with HIV infection.

To use Chinese medicine you don't have to understand its underlying philosophy or principles. You can take the herbs, receive acupuncture and try other therapies much as you would take a pill-Western style-and you will still reap considerable benefits.

But a curious thing happens when you use Chinese medicine: Its transforming power insinuates itself into your unconscious as the treatments strengthen your mind/body/spirit. You find, despite your lack of understanding of how it works or what it can do, that repeated exposure to the basic treatments-herbs, acupuncture, dietary therapy and Qi Gong exercise and meditation-changes you in subtle but far-reaching ways. You become more tuned into your physical and spiritual self. You become aware of the profound impact of your breath on your physical and mental well-being; you begin to sense the flow of Qi -the life force-through your body; you tune into your own mental and physical strengths and imbalances; you learn to rejoice in the interconnectedness of all life experience.
This transformation creates a sense of empowerment that's particularly important in dealing with a chronic disorder such as HIV disease, which can erode your sense of control over your own body and make you feel estranged from your physical and spiritual self.

Putting yourself within the Eastern frame of mind will help you maximize the effectiveness of Western treatments (and lessen the negative side-effects). You'll also be better able to manage HIV-associated disorders and diseases, such as sinusitis and chronic diarrhea, which often resist Western treatments. So I hope you'll take the time to explore a little bit about the inner workings of Chinese medicine. It can bring a great deal of joy and healing into your life.

Toxic Heat and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus: Understanding HIV disease from the Chinese Perspective

Through clinical observation and treatment of thousands of people with HIV and AIDS, clinical evaluation of the tongues of over 600 people with HIV infection and/or AIDS, and the use of pulse diagnosis, I have come to understand that HIV infection is triggered by Toxic Heat, and initially attacks the Spleen and Stomach Organ Systems. They are the central organs involved in this complex syndrome and must be supported throughout the entire course of the disease even when the HIV-related disharmonies expand to involve all the other organ systems as well.

The Impact of Toxic Heat

Toxic Heat creates the initial flu-like symptoms that for many people accompany initial exposure to HIV. And as the Toxic Heat moves more deeply into all systems of the body, it triggers a whole variety of common HIV-related symptoms: pruritis (chronic itching), sore throats, increase in body temperature, feeling like you always have a fever even if one is not present, a nagging sensation that something toxic is present in the body.

Toxic Heat is also responsible for the cascade of Organ System disharmonies in the Spleen and Stomach, Kidney and Liver, which contribute to the major complication associated with HIV infection, wasting. (For detailed information on nutritional management and therapy see the Diet Therapy chapter and the three-part "Wasting Program: The Daily Diary;" "The Cleansing Diet;" "The Anti-Wasting Program" in The HIV Wellness Sourcebook.)

Role of the Spleen and Stomach Systems in the Progression from HIV to AIDS

The Spleen and Stomach Systems govern the digestive process, transforming food energy and fluid into Qi and Xue (blood). As a result the Spleen and Stomach moisten and nurture all the other Organ Systems and channels.

When Toxic Heat disrupts the Spleen and Stomach Systems, it triggers symptoms that are associated with the very early stages of HIV infection. These symptoms include

  • fatigue,
  • inability to gain weight no matter how much is eaten,
  • loose stools,
  • bloating, gas and flatulence and/or dull pain in the abdomen,
  • needing to take naps after meals, and/or
  • frequent infections.
In addition, symptoms of early stage HIV infection, such as dry skin and lips, set in when the flow of fluids and food essence from the Spleen and Stomach to the Lungs, is disrupted. Often dryness in one area, triggers dampness in another: Spleen Qi deficiency with dampness manifests in early neuropathy (a numbness or tingling sensation often in the hands or feet, lymphadenopathy (swelling and inflammation of the lymph nodes), vaginal candidiasis (yeast) infections, more serious loose stools and/or bloating. Spleen-related diarrhea is prevalent with loose stools and abdominal bloating after eating. Skin rashes, commonly associated with early-stage HIV infection, are a result of Spleen Qi deficiency and Lung disharmonies interacting with the essential substances.

Spleen Qi deficiency also causes deficient Xue (blood). Once this sets in, the door is opened to allow Toxic Heat to enter the depleted blood and penetrate ever deeper into the body. The body them moves into more advanced stages of HIV/AIDS. If unchecked, an increasing depletion of the fluids of the Spleen (the Spleen's Yin aspect) leads to overall Yin deficiency, which in turn can lead to Yang depletion.

Although today the combination of Western and Chinese therapies can arrest (for some period of time) the progression of HIV infection to end-stage AIDS for many people, when the cascade of Spleen-Stomach triggered disorders causes overall Yin deficiency and Yang depletion, wasting becomes severe. Diarrhea stops. The skin becomes drier and drier. Thirst is unquenchable. Fevers spike every afternoon and often in the evenings. The pulse is rapid, thready and superficial. This is a terminal stage of HIV disease. (ED: Yes it is called HIV disease.) Acupuncture and herbs are used to support the Shen (spirit) and the passing over to a new phase of existence.

Associated Disharmonies and Opportunistic Infections

Toxic Heat and the Spleen-Stomach disharmonies weaken the body's overall resistance to assault from both internal and external disease factors and allow other organ systems to become involved. This leads to the development of HIV-related disorders and opportunistic infections. For example, if Toxic heat assaults the Lungs, PCP (Pneumocystis Carinii pneumonia) may develop. Xue disharmonies are associated with Kaposi's sarcoma (a proliferative, circulatory cell disease that causes skin lesions); dampness is associated with candidiasis (yeast infections) and fungal invasions; Yin deficiency and Xue deficiency are associated with MAC (Mycobacterium Avian Complex) ; dampness and Spleen and Lung disharmonies may manifest as chronic sinusitis; disturbed Shen that is associated with mental disturbances that accompany HIV/AIDS; and many more.

Each of these syndromes is detailed in the individual treatment programs in the last section of the book. However, I wanted to make the point here that looking at HIV disease as an assault by Toxic Heat that starts with damage to the Spleen and Stomach, and moves on to include other organ systems and Essential Substances, provides a concise method of describing, diagnosing and treating the whole constellation of HIV-related diseases.
Copyright 2006 - All rights reserved.

This article is protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of
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About the Author
Dr. Misha Ruth Cohen, OMD, L.Ac., has over 30 years experience in the practice of Asian medicine--including acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition and diet, and Asian bodywork.
Misha is the author of three books: The Chinese Way to Healing: Many Paths to Wholeness; The HIV Wellness Sourcebook: and The Hepatitis C Helpbook. She is internationally known as a practitioner, teacher, and mentor to Chinese medicine practitioners around the world.
Today, Cohen has developed great expertise in the area of gynecology and is considered one of the pioneers of utilizing Chinese medicine to help treat HIV and AIDS.
Website: http://docmisha.com