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Chinese Medicine and stress

A small article about stress from a TCM viewpoint.

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Brief: The theories of Chinese medicine resemble those of Hans Selye, the biological scientist who first employed the term stress in his seminal book, The Stress of Life. Selye articulates the theory that most chronic illness is due to a deterioration of the organism’s capacity to adapt to stress, whether physical or psychological. He emphasizes the primary role of the adrenal and other endocrine glands in mediating the body’s response to all forms of stress, arguing that it is only after these mechanisms fail to restore homeostasis that the characteristic features of disease begin to appear in accord with the unique predispositions and acquired weaknesses of each individual.

It seems that both Hans Selye and Zhang Zhong Jing agree that people initially become sick in similar ways, but if recovery does not occur quickly enough, they become chronically ill in more diverse and idiosyncratic ways. They also agree that it is the body’s intrinsic ability to recover its own equilibrium that sustains health and prevents the development of chronic illness. In other words, the adequacy of Qi equals the adequacy of adaptive reserves–referred to by modern neuro-physiologists as the competence of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The physiology of the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands and their roles in producing the hormones that regulate all psychological and physiological functions corresponds closely to the functions of the Kidney Network as described in Chinese medicine.

It is the Kidney Network that is responsible for maintaining the body’s vital primary functions such as: mental alertness, sensory responsiveness, respiration, circulation, blood pressure, osmotic pressure, temperature, fluid balance, and for conserving the body’s material substrate–sometimes referred to as protoplasm or ground substance–called Essence, the primordial form of Qi.

It is Essence that generates the fundamental material components (marrow, semen, synovial and cerebrospinal fluid) and structural matrix (collagen, the delicate, elastic lattice of bone and connective tissue) of the body as well as its ability to maintain proper temperature, pressure, solidity and fluid balance. Without these basic elements in place, immunity to pathogenic organisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and resistance to physical or chemical stressors such as changes in weather, altitude and pressure, dust and pollens, or chemical contaminants in air, water, and food is very difficult to maintain.

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