Acupuncture and Autoimmune DiseasesAcupuncture and Autoimmune Diseases

By Marie Veverka, Dipl., OM

In the fall of 1993, I was infected by the Epstein-Barr virus, which is the virus associated with infectious mononucleosis. It was evasive. My parents had to take me to the doctor several times before I even returned a positive test result confirming the perceived diagnosis. We were told that this is not uncommon. With many patients, they have to take the test several times.

This tells us something important, and that is that this particular virus has evolved to hide itself within our systems. It has found that it has a better chance of survival the longer it remains undetected.

What does this have to do with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases that affect the central nervous system (CNS)? Current researchers are asking that very question. In a clinical summary titled Epstein-Barr Virus Infections of the Nervous System, originally published in 1999 and then updated in 2013, Dr. Amlie-Lefond of University of Washington and Dr. Johnson of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health took a deeper look into the correlation between Epstein-Barr and infections of the nervous system. 

After reviewing several studies, they found that, although not clearly causative, "Epstein-Barr virus infections have been related to multiple sclerosis."  In one study they reviewed, it was found that, "antibody responses to many viruses, including the Epstein-Barr virus, are increased in multiple sclerosis patients (Sumaya et al 1985; Johnson 1998; Farrell et al 2009)." In another, it was found that "assay of serum samples showed significant elevations of anti-EBV titers 15 to 20 years prior to onset of symptoms of multiple sclerosis (DeLorenze et al 2006)."

Furthermore, "Epstein-Barr virus has been associated with a variety of CNS complications including meningoencephalitis, encephalitis, cerebritis, transverse myelitis, neuropsychiatric syndromes, cranial nerve palsies, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and mononeuropathies (Connelly and DeWitt 1994)." At this point, studies have not clarified the pathogenesis of these complications but it has been suggested that they may be due to direct viral infection or autoimmune complications. 

This is where Chinese Medicine comes into play. We can spend years doing research on these complications but at the end of the day, the most important thing is to look at where we believe the problem started. In the case of these patients, it seems their CNS complications may have some correlation with Epstein-Barr, which belongs to the herpes virus family. There are more than 130 recognized herpes viruses, eight of which are confirmed to infect humans, and many of them have a latent state. This is different than an incubation period. A virus in the latent state is still present in the body, but it is not causing an active outbreak. Reactivation of a virus that has been in the latent state is implicated in a number of diseases. One of the most well-known examples of this is the strain of the herpes virus that causes chicken pox (varicella zoster). Years after a patient presents with chicken pox, they may develop shingles when the latent virus is reactivated. 

In Chinese Medicine, this falls into the category of something known as Gu Syndrome. Gu Syndrome is a disease process that is usually caused by a latent pathogen of some sort, whether it is a virus, bacteria, parasite, fungus, yeast, or any combination thereof. For over 2,000 years, Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture have been used to address Gu syndrome but, unfortunately, with the changes that Chinese Medicine underwent during the Cultural Revolution, it disappeared from the modern textbooks

Thanks to the work of Dr. Heiner Fruehauf, Gu treatment is making a comeback. Dr. Fruehauf has produced a line of herbal products synthesizing viable clinical approaches from scores of classical Chinese texts and case studies. Latent infections of the nervous system that produce chronic body pain and cognitive issues were common in ancient China (i.e. malaria), and thus gave rise to a host of herbal prescriptions that were successfully used to fight latent and systemic infections that can be compared to modern Western presentations of Epstein-Barr, Lyme disease and other complex disorders. It is Dr. Fruehauf's experience that these time-honored approaches do not only provide viable treatment options for latent infections in the body's lymph, blood and tissues, but also to the "autoimmune over-reactions" that often tend to accompany these difficult and recalcitrant pathologies.

Without addressing these latent infections, there is little hope of ever resolving the symptoms associated with them. Treating Gu Syndrome is not a quick fix. Normal treatment duration is often anywhere from 2-5 years and involves changing herbal prescriptions several times. But as time goes on, symptoms ease, energy returns, and a sense of well-being is reintroduced to the life of patients who felt that there were no answers or treatments available for them that didn’t come along with a host of miserable side effects. 

Believe me, I know. I have treated patients that suffered from chronic neurological symptoms for years without relief. Doctors were baffled, friends and family abandoned them and the patients were accused of making it up, being depressed, seeking attention, and even being crazy. Tests turned up negative and the cause remained a mystery. 

In my early years as a Chinese Medical practitioner, I used acupuncture as my main treatment modality. One of my most memorable patients was a 30-year-old gentleman with MS that I treated with acupuncture while I was doing an intern rotation at an outpatient clinic for the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU).  This gentleman had been in a wheelchair for five years and after just a few treatments he noticed that he had feeling in his legs when I stimulated the acupuncture points. Then one day, while I was stimulating a point on his leg, he kicked me in the stomach knocking me backwards. Everyone in the room gasped; it was involuntary, but it was movement. After three months of regular acupuncture treatments and physical therapy, he was able to stand on his own for five minutes for the first time in years, and that was without even involving Chinese herbs in his treatment program.

Once I discovered Dr. Fruehauf’s work, I felt like I had finally found the missing piece of the puzzle. The medical studies coming out only confirm what Chinese Medical practitioners were already addressing thousands of years ago - many infections can lie dormant in our bodies for years and just because they aren’t causing an active infection, doesn’t mean their presence can’t create a whole host of other complications, including neurological ones. Using acupuncture and herbs in combination can really help provide relief for these frustrating complications. Last year, for instance, Dr. Fruehauf received news from an MS patient who had been in a wheelchair for seven years and after several months on Lightning Pearls (Su He Tang Jiajian modification) began to get up and pursue her favorite pastime of hiking in the mountains again. 

Recently, I had a female patient suffering from a chronic form of Guillain-Barré experience similar results. We had been managing her pain with acupuncture for years (which she is convinced is the only thing that kept her out of a wheel chair) but the change she experienced when she started taking the Lightening Pearls in combination with three other Classical Pearl formulas (Thunder, Bamboo and Sugar) was phenomenal. She was concerned at first because she is on several prescription medications, but because most of the herbs are food grade they are quite safe and don’t interact negatively with her prescription medications. After less than two months, the pain that woke her throughout the night had eased enough that she could finally get a full night’s sleep again. She no longer has difficulty swallowing, her ulcer-type pain has all but disappeared, her ears have stopped ringing, her brain fog has vanished and the burning pain that migrated throughout her body has decreased significantly giving her some of her first pain free days in years. Plus, since she started taking the formulas, she has been able to reduce the dosage of several of the prescription medications she was taking with the guidance of her neurologist, including multiple pain medications and prednisone (which she decreased from 60mg per day to 15mg per day). Just recently, she told me that that the renewed sense of hope and well being she feels make her so happy she feels like jumping for joy.

If you are interested in exploring whether or not acupuncture and Chinese Herbs can help you or a loved one, contact us at Freedom Pain Hospital. I look forward to meeting you and determining if acupuncture may be a beneficial treatment for you.


About the Author:

Marie Veverka, Dipl., OM received her Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine. She has worked with patients suffering from various neurological and autoimmune conditions that often result in severe pain. Through acupuncture and additional eastern medicine techniques, Marie's care plans serve as a strong complement to western medicine. Marie is passionate about helping patients heal the body as a whole. Marie currently works at the Freedom Pain Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ - http://www.freedompainhospital.com/



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