Just the title of this post has my heart racing with excitement — at times like this I marvel at how I, of all people, became such a geek.

It’s no surprise that medical problems run in families just like body types, the shape of one’s nose, and the color of one’s hair. But could genetics be simply an expression of an overwhelmed system? According to the 5-Channel system of acupuncture as described by one of the greatest living teachers of Chinese Medicine, Jeffrey Yuen,
that’s exactly right. During one of his many continuing education conferences, which I attended, Jeffrey Yuen said genetic tendencies towards certain diseases can be thought of as a particular type of pathology that one or more ancestor was unable to resolve within his or her 5 channels, and which therefore descended into the next generation. The way I understand it, the 5 channel system of Acupuncture is the only medical paradigm to understand a mechanism for how genetics can be trumped by internal or external environmental factors.

It’s recognized in western medicine that people with a genetic predisposition (genetic markers) for a particular disease may or may not suffer from that disease in their lifetime. But how or why that expression remains latent or becomes manifest is not understood. The 5 Channel system (particularly the Divergent Channels) provides a way of understanding the mechanism of latency. I’m no Jeffrey Yuen, and would not attempt to teach (or even report more deeply) on this subject. If you’re an acupuncturist, get thee to a seminar taught by this amazing teacher. His teachings resonate for me so deeply because my own experience as an acupuncturist has shown me, time and again, the wisdom of pathology.

From my experience as an acupuncturist, I believe that early warning signs of a distressed system are the wise pathologies of an intelligent being. With a little training anyone with the capacity of self-reflection can learn to be a better listener and a more active responder to the wise direction of our own pathologies. Many of my clients who continue to receive regular acupuncture after a medical crisis has been averted do so because they feel that the experience of acupuncture makes them more receptive and responsive to the lessons of small pathology which the body uses to school us in how to take care of ourselves.

Small examples of what some of my clients have learned from their own experiences: eczema is related to food allergies, back pain is related to intestinal problems, acne and migraines in women and girls is related to hormonal changes. There is one more complicated example of the wisdom of pathology which involves a young woman diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis.

She came to me for acupuncture after receiving a diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis from a doctor of natural medicine. She was looking for help to restore the healthy functioning of her liver, which according to liver function tests had not been functioning well for at least a year.

What unfolded was an example of something I wrote about in an earlier post (The Number One Problem in American Healthcare: No one is Listening). By sitting with this woman for as long as it took (about an hour and a half) I learned a great deal of important clues from her medical and family history. The first thing to be revealed that perked my interest was that she had had one episode of severe eczema on her hip about one year ago. She had been given a topical steroid and it “went away.” I put that in quotations because I believe that while the rash may have disappeared from the skin, the problem went deeper, and found another post from which to stand on its soap box and scream, look at me, look at me. The new post? Her liver. I immediately shared my son’s story (gluten free because gluten intake results in eczema, whereas abstinence from gluten means no rash), and the stories of others I’ve worked with (including a 12 year old boy who would not explore dietary triggers to his eczema until he became unable to tolerate almost all foods and had to be treated in a hospital for massive food intolerances at the age of 19). Her response was immediate: “That’s interesting,” she said, “my sister was diagnosed with Celiac disease when she was 2!” Bingo. I told her of the tendency of diseases to run in families and urged her to get tested.

Unfortunately her doctor was misinformed about Celiac, and didn’t realize it ran in families, and counseled her against the test, reiterating that she had autoimmune hepatitis. Celiac disease doesn’t cause liver disease, he said. Luckily this woman is someone who feels comfortable thinking outside the box. I shared with her my own belief that the body’s intelligence should not be underestimated. Celiac disease goes undiagnosed and is misdiagnosed so often (average time between sickness and diagnosis is something like 10 years!) because the “typical” celiac presentation (diarrhea, malnutrition, weight loss) is perhaps not so typical afterall, rather just one way that the illness sometimes manifests–just so happens it’s a way that western medicine thinks is sensible for a disorder effecting the small intestine.

So, she got the test. Positive for celiac. After being on a gluten-free diet for a short time her liver function tests returned to normal. Which, for me, is proof enough that when it comes to an autoimmune disease (such as celiac) anything is possible. When dealing with autoimmune disease, the whole concept of cause and effect is turned upside down and shoved down the rabbit hole. A does not lead to B–it might lead to C, instead. We need a paradigm, such as Chinese Medicine, that can enter a dialogue with the bodymind from any one of many multi-faceted entry points, a paradigm that can contemplate multiple correspondences between organs and multiple relationships between functioning parts and whole systems. Western medicine is great at what it does. But it doesn’t particularly shine in the world beneath the rabbit hole.