On May 5th 2017 BBC Breakfast news reported on an item entitled ‘Cluster Headaches’. Apparently, there are approximately 130,000 sufferers in the UK and they are acute, excruciating attacks of pain on one side of the head. Pain described as worse than that experienced by migraine sufferers. One afflicted person describes how the torment is so bad that he deliberately finds a hard surface on which to bang his head, and sometimes knocks himself out to gain relief!
During the footage two statements made by contributors to the programme especially alerted my attention. The first was by a victim who said, “I suffer every spring and every autumn without fail.” The other was made by a researcher working on a study project about the condition at Kings College Hospital, pointing at a picture of the brain she commented, “this is the posterior hypothalamus also known as the internal body clock which we think is linked with cluster headache attacks.”
These comments made me reflect on my knowledge of acupuncture and two of the guiding principles employed in diagnosis and treatment. In Ancient China patients didn’t go for acupuncture treatment when they were ill, they went at the change of season’s to have their energy tuned to the season about to occur. For example, in the spring and summer, the energy is rising and active (Yang). In the autumn and winter, the energy is withdrawing, becoming passive and inward (Yin). This was preventative medicine keeping people in balance with the rhythms of nature. I can guarantee that when the season’s change I will see patients (who are new to Five Element practice), be ill with colds, especially if they work in air-conditioned offices.
For thousands of years acupuncturists have understood that the body has a 24-hour clock. In layman’s terms each organ of the body has a peak two hours period of activity in a 24-hour cycle. For example, the gall bladder is at a peak between 11 pm and 1 am, the liver between 1 am and 3 am. Twelve hours later the organ has a two hours resting period so between 11am and 1pm next day the gall bladder is enjoying, or trying to enjoy a tranquil phase, similarly, the liver between 1pm and 3 pm.
Patient’s who have digestive ill health find it interesting that the stomach and spleen are at their peak between 7 am and 11 am so any food we send down between those hours they break down to the best of their ability and we derive the most nourishment from them. Consequently, between these hours in the evening they are resting and any food they are asked to deal with is not handled effectively and we can suffer symptoms like acid reflux. I don’t know the origin but there is a saying, ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper’. Chinese medicine has understood this for centuries.
When taking a new patients case history I always ask if their symptoms are worse/better at a particular time of day or night, and likewise during a particular season.
Back to the BBC report, without any shadow of a doubt the fact that the lady always suffers in autumn and spring is significant. The research project would benefit from knowing the principles behind Eastern medicine and the 24-hour body clock. I often come across items in the media that are detailing new medical research, new prescription drugs, new ‘scientific’ study and find myself wishing that western medicine/science would look to the ancient systems of healing and their understanding of what creates health/ill health in an individual and not reinvent the wheel!