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Messages from Within: Organ Vitality in Holistic Veterinary Medicine

by David MacDonald

When things are going well, it’s easy to take for granted the functioning of internal organs. One goal of veterinary medicine, however, is to minimize or prevent the onset of illness, and optimizing internal organ function to its fullest potential is part of this process. 

When we refer to internal organs in veterinary medicine, we are referring to the liver, kidneys, pancreas, heart, lungs and other organs in main body cavities. In modern veterinary medicine, much is known about how the internal organs work. Advancements in laboratory testing and imaging allow veterinarians to measure quickly and accurately how the kidneys, liver and pancreas are functioning.

That is all very good, but what else might be done to supplement this information? Are there other ways of assessing organ vitality? Are there natural ways of improving organ function? To best answer these questions, the use of a different perspective is needed.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), good health is represented by a balance of yin and yang. What this refers to is that the body strives for balance. The body functions best when it maintains a state of balance, when it stays in the comfort zone. Examples of this balance include being neither too hot nor too cold, neither too active nor too still, neither too light nor too heavy, neither too strong nor too weak.

In seeing the aspects of bodily function manifest in the patient through the lens of yin and yang, a veterinarian trained in TCM also has access to evaluations of internal organ function.

Thousands of years ago, when TCM originated, there was no knowledge of the organs in the way that modern doctors now practice. TCM is formulated on the basis of a comprehensive framework of how the body works. It uses terminology that, while similar, is not an exact one-to-one correlation of what is now understood. In actuality, this is one of the strengths of this approach. Subtle nuances in findings direct our attention in regard to internal imbalances in the body, and by extension, how internal organs invest their influences in the body. The end result is a greater understanding of these patients as individuals.

For example, subtle findings such as noise sensitivity, excessive dreaming and dry eye are worth noting and may direct us, through TCM methodology, to focus on the liver.

With this insight, it is possible to superimpose these concepts upon what is already known from a traditional medical workup. Sometimes that correlates nicely with other diagnostic tests such as blood tests, but other times it may obligate the thought process to transcend beyond the bounds of symptoms associated with sickness, to “think outside the box.”

This ability to associate subtle signs with imbalances allows for proactive action to be taken before a patient becomes overtly sick. Organ vitality is maintained in this manner by recognizing the imbalance before it becomes a compromise. Use of a therapeutic modality such as acupuncture provides the opportunity for a veterinarian to improve, optimize or resolve imbalances with the internal organs.

Acupuncture is a safe and painless means of rectifying imbalances in the body. In the concepts of TCM, acupuncture points, positioned on meridians, exert a direct influence on yin and yang. In a modern understanding of the bio-physiology of acupuncture, it is understood that bodily changes in function occur through changes in blood flow, through mediators of physiology called cytokines and through influence on nerves in the body.

Acupuncture is known to decrease inflammation and may be targeted to particular parts of the body. Acupuncture is also known to alter blood flow, and can do so in such a way as to increase blood supply to an area of the body that has been deprived of enough blood. These effects may be thought of adding or subtracting from the imbalances with the intention of getting the balance to be equal, neither too much nor too little.

In the context of organ function, a state of inflammation is considered an excess, and effective treatment subtracts from this imbalance allowing it to be unburdened and function resumes normally. Conversely, if an organ is compromised, it is deficient and a treatment intended to boost its ability is thought of as an addition.

These concepts may be illustrated with two examples of kidney disease. Pyelonephritis is a type of inflammation of the kidney. Acupuncture treatment for this condition makes use of acupuncture points known to have a strongly anti-inflammatory effect, both globally in the body as a whole, as well as directly connected with the kidney. Renal insufficiency, or kidney failure, is typical with advancing age. Acupuncture for this condition boosts kidney function through the use of acupuncture points that invigorate blood flow directly to the kidney.

The end result in both of these scenarios is that kidney function returns to normal.

The vitality of internal organ function is built into the foundation of TCM. The use of acupuncture in veterinary medicine has been embraced as a safe and effective treatment to improve organ function in animal patients worldwide.

Dr. David MacDonald is a veterinarian with Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care, located at 380 N. Shady Retreat Rd. He is a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA) and a certified veterinary spinal manipulative therapist (CVSMT). To request an appointment, call 215-345-6000. For more information, visit January 2019

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