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Home > Newsletters > July 2006 > Ask the Doctor

Points -  Ask the Doctor

Q: I was diagnosed as having intestinal Candida. I have been suffering from allergies, specifically chest pain, shortness of breath, tiredness, muscle aches to name but a few. Everything I've read about Candida says it can't be cured without a strict sugar free diet and anti fungal drugs. Can acupuncture help me?

 A: Yup. In fact, what you've described is practically a textbook case.
Firstly, there's a problem with the diagnosis of Candida. This diagnosis doesn't actually exist in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). What we usually treat in the case of Candida infection is what we call "dampness". All of the symptoms are the same, but we treat it as a problem that comes from a deficiency of the digestive system.

In the same way that a car's engine spews out a bunch of smoke when it is not tuned-up, the digestive system in our bodies produce a pathological substance called "dampness" when it isn't working very efficiently.

Dampness can be seen in many of the usual symptoms of what many call "Candida." Candida is a popular diagnosis in the holistic health community and that is kind of dangerous in my opinion. I've seen patients who are taking all kinds of really intense herbs and/or therapies to treat this problem, even though I see absolutely no evidence of it in either their signs as interpreted by TCM or even their symptoms as reported by the patient.

That aside, let's look at your symptoms, remember that in Chinese medicine, we treat what we see, not the diagnosis that the patient arrives with.

Chest pain, shortness of breath, tiredness and muscle aches sound like a Qi deficiency of the Spleen and Lungs. The Spleen and Lungs are the two organs that contribute the most to the amount of Qi or energy in our bodies. What would likely be the first course of treatment in your case would be to simply strengthen your Spleen (digestion) and Lungs to increase your energy. Once that happens, the production of dampness in your system will automatically dry up. I haven't heard any specific symptoms of dampness in your brief list of symptoms, so for now, I'll assume that the dampness isn't too prevalent in your system.

Symptoms of Spleen Qi deficiency include bloating, gas, loose stools, fatigue, muscle aches. If this is giving rise to dampness in your body, the list of symptoms rises dramatically. If the dampness congeals, we might see clear liquids coming out of the body. This can be anything from a chronic runny nose, to unusual amounts of vaginal discharge. Other symptoms of dampness could be less visual, for instance, foggy thinking, or the inability to concentrate, nausea, sores that weep (like pimples, but not with pus inside, rather they'd just have some clear liquid coming out).

Symptoms of Lung Qi deficiency include the shortness of breath that you mentioned, fatigue, possible chest pain (That's a bit of a wild card in your case. That could be a few different things.), frequent colds and flues, sweating for no reason, etc.

Treatment for you would be a rather simple point prescription to strengthen the so-called "tai yin" channels in your body. These two acupuncture meridians share a certain kind of energy that responds well together. Spleen and Lung are kind of like brothers in the similarities of the kind of Qi that flows through their meridians.

Herbal supplements would also be helpful, though I'd want to know what else you're already taking. I don't like to add herbs to the mix until you're focused on one direction for treatment. I don't like to get in the way of other practitioners' dietary therapies, or visa-versa. If perchance your other therapies seem consistent with my goals to strengthen your Spleen and Lungs, then I'd jump in with the herbs to assist the treatment of your other therapies.

When push comes to shove, we're really only concerned with your response to the Candida, not its existence in your body. That may sound kind of superficial, but its not. Consider how many people are walking around with the Epstein-Barr virus in their blood streams, but with no symptoms of chronic fatigue or mono or anything. We all have immune systems that are designed to prevent any of these pathogens from becoming a health issue. When we strengthen the digestion or whatever else may be weakened, the body's natural defenses against these problems step up to the plate to handle the issue and we can get on with our lives pain free.

Conventional wisdom does suggest all kinds of dietary advice in regards to Candida. In the case of severe dampness in the body, dietary therapy is definitely part of the big picture, but only in an effort to allow the digestive system to get back on its feet so it can work to begin to dry up that internal dampness.

If your acupuncturist is treating Candida as Candida rather than "dampness" then he/she is straddling paradigms. Many of us do this to make it easier for the patient to understand what we're doing. Sometimes I don't call a problem such as yours "Candida", sometimes I do. That doesn't change how I treat it as I mentioned prior in regards to dampness.

The other possibility is that your practitioner is treating you with acupuncture from within a more Western paradigm attempting to treat the Candida as an internal fungus. I don't do that, but the bottom line is your response to your therapy. That's all that matters, really. It doesn't matter what we call the problem, only that it goes away.

Just remember that if you live free of symptoms, but there is always evidence of the Candida in your body, then who cares? It reminds me of the HIV patients who show no symptoms of their viral infections. They defy the odds, and yet they are HIV positive according to their blood tests. Except for the obvious life-style precautions that they must make in regards to their sexuality, there's nothing to worry but the constant nagging of our society's fear of this virus.

We all have numerous pathogens floating around in our bodies. Let's treat our bodies' ability to combat these issues and we're in a much better position to enjoy our lives regardless of what blood tests tell us.

About our Doctors

This month's Ask the Doctor question was answered by:

Al Stone, L.Ac.
Beyond Well Being

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicines
Santa Monica, CA.
                    (310) 264-6668

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