Chinese Medicine has a beautiful way of getting to the core principles of a disorder as an efficient way to inform appropriate treatment. While terms like deficiency, excess, stagnation, and retained pathogens may seem simple, they can be related to modern medical explanations of diseases (like post- COVID syndrome). Western biomedical research into Long-Haul COVID (LHC) looks at immune and cellular dysfunction that can lead to organ and tissue damage.
These play out in the body in ways that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognize as specific patterns of imbalance. TCM considers these imbalances the root of the various LHC symptoms like fatigue and chronic pain. There’s actually a lot of overlap in Eastern vs. Western understanding of possible causes…Chinese Medicine’s just been treating it a lot longer.
Acupuncture actually has a long history of treating lingering symptoms from epidemics. Throughout the past 2,000 years, acupuncturists have documented how to successfully treat these patterns. Chinese physicians described methods of acupuncture to re-energize the patient, move blocked energy, clear pathogenic “dampness” (ie: fluid imbalance, mucous and biofilm buildup etc.), and cool or warm the body as needed. They also laid out treatment approaches for difficult relapsing cases where the wei qi (immunity) was weak.
Acupuncture has thus had many years to hone its skills in treating post-viral syndromes. And while research on long covid has only just begun (and many clinical trials are currently underway) there is already a growing body of present-day evidence supporting its worth. Data collected from the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) showed an overall positive response to acupuncture.
Many patients reported improvement with long Covid symptoms like chronic fatigue, heart arrhythmias and nausea. In another analysis of acupuncture for LHC, it was shown to help with headaches, myalgia, and abdominal pain. Preliminary findings from some of the new clinical studies show strong support for the role of acupuncture in the treatment of post-COVID syndrome.
One study involving 85 patients found that over 70% were cured of irregular menstruation, while over 80% of all participants were cured of fatigue, shortness of breath, body pain and/or brain fog.
So how is it actually helping, from a biomedical perspective?
Here we’ll look at 2 main mechanisms of action relevant to the current understanding of LHC.
The latest research suggests that acupuncture’s overall regulatory effects come from its interaction with our nervous and immune system and this gives it the upper hand in dealing with LHC. Through its ability to stimulate or sedate immune function, evidenced by measurable changes in various immune cells, it can both help to fight infections and calm any immune over-reactions. When acupuncture successfully regulates immunity, it in turn protects the cells, tissues and organs from further harm from infection and inflammation, and allows the body to shift into healing and repair mode.
The mitochondria is an intracellular structure that is known as the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell because it is the site of ATP (energy) production. Viral diseases, like SARS-CoV-2,
are known for their ability to disrupt the intracellular environment, with a special focus on our little energy factories. Not only does this activate inflammatory pathways via the immune system, it of course deprives the body of energy leading to what many know as “covid fatigue” and “brain fog”.
Increasing evidence supports the efficacy of acupuncture for improving the mitochondrial structure and protecting mitochondrial functions. Acupuncture intervention has even been shown in numerous studies to reverse mitochondrial damage. Acupuncture, with very few side effects, is known in TCM to boost qi (energy) and its role in mitochondrial support looks like it could be one of the main ways it accomplishes this.