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Home > Points Newsletters > April 2004 >

Ask the Doctor

Q: Do you think that acupuncture could help restore a taste and smell disorder?

A: Kuei-Meng Wu writes: The answer is yes. From a TCM perspective (five element theory), both taste and smell have their own unique attributes related to specific zang-fu organs (e.g., Liv/H/Sp/L/K relate to respectively to rancid/scorch/fragrant/putrid/rotten and sour/bitter/sweet/pungent/salty). Based on this, the acupuncturist can rationalize his/her therapeutic approach by adjusting meridians or points associated with the zang-fu organs involved. These measures should be complemented with eight principle diagnostics, to balance the patient's yin-yang based on syndrome pattern presented by the patient in regard to excess/deficiency, hot/cold, exterior/interior. In general, one should pay more attention to the Spleen and Lung systems because they are more closely related to the dampness and phlegm that might impede taste and smell functions.

Certain taste and smell problems result from expression (branch) of the root of the disease. For instance, (1) low thyroid functions or hypothyroidism, (2) trace metal metabolism disorders (esp. copper, zinc, calcium and magnesium), (3) flu/seasonal allergy with congestion and hypersecretory conditions, (4) deficiency of growth factors for taste buds and olfactory receptors that lead to degeneration of these sensors and (5) drug-induced conditions (e.g., beta-blockers) or head trauma. It is also known that salivary and olfactory mucosa's secretory functions may be impaired in patients following x-ray or neutron irradiation therapy on the head/neck area (e.g., thyroid cancer) and in patients with Sjogren's syndrome (autoimmune disease against moisture-producing glands). Thus, the acupuncturist should approach the problems by taking into consideration the root of the diseases.

In practice, Spleen/Stomach meridians or related points for dampness or indigestion should be considered (Sp 4, S 40 etc).
Certain experiential points have used for bitter taste including G 38. LI 19 (Yingxiang) (and LI 20) can be tried because its name indicated for smell function. In addition, local regular channel points on the facial (nose, mouth) area and local extra points such as bitong (also called Shangyingxiang), Juquan (EX-HN8), Jinjin-Yuye (EX-HN6&7), and a distal extra point called Sweet-Tasting Point (midpoint between L 7 and LI 5) can also be considered.

Electroacupuncture should be encouraged as stimulations at different frequencies have been shown to improve neurotransmitter levels, especially serotonin, which was shown to be involved in gustatory (and possibly olfactory) function.

Q: I have colonic inertia, which means the nerves of my colon do not work, thus I have chronic constipation. I will need to take prescription drugs for the rest of my life to deal with this condition. Can acupuncture help or cure this condition?

A: Emily Kane writes: The Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis for colonic inertia is "Stagnation of the Large Intestine Meridian." The first order of business with "stagnation" or lack of flow, in the colon is to drink more water. You need to drink 1/2 ounce daily for every pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 160 pounds, you need to drink 80 ounces of pure water, not with meals, daily. You don't want to dilute your digestive enzymes. Also, increase the fiber (oat bran, celery, apples, ground flax seeds) in your diet. Avoid refined sugars. Sweets create "sticky poops" (according to TCM), which are much more difficult to pass. The ideal poop half floats/half sinks, wipes clean easily and occurs at least once daily.

The best acupoints for constipation include Large Intestine 4, Liver 3, Stomach 36, Stomach 25 and Spleen 14. The first set, LI 4 and Li 3 are collectively known at the "Four Gates" and open the channels for elimination of toxins. LI 4 is particularly useful because you can readily massage the point yourself. LI 4 is also a major treatment point for headaches; many "toxic" headaches can be "cured" simply by stimulating a bowel evacuation. Stomach 36 is a lower leg point that stimulates the "central Qi". Although stagnation of any kind generally presents locally, as relative excess, the patient is likely to be suffering some kind of constitutional deficiency. Stomach 36 is specific for "toning" the system digestive deficiency while reducing excess "locally". St 25 and Sp 14 are on the abdomen and require longer needles and usually somewhat more vigorous stimulation. Ideally these points would produce borborygmus (gut gurgling) when placed.

About our Doctors:

Kuei-Meng Wu is the author of "Coretext of Acupuncture" and an instructor of two CME-credited courses entitled "Chinese Acupunctology" and "Chinese Herbal Pharmacology" at the FAES graduate school in NIH. Wu specializes in pain management. He can be reached at or 301-564-9618.

Emily A. Kane was raised in North Africa. She graduated from Bastyr University in Seattle where she completed both the Naturopathic and Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine programs. Kane is a former senior editor of the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine (1989-96), the scientific, peer-reviewed journal of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

This Month's Articles

April 2004
Volume 2, Number 3

Pros and Cons  of the Ephedra Ban

Classical Chinese Ophthalmology

Recent Research

Ask The Doctor


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