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Understanding HIV from the Chinese Perspective

by Misha Ruth Cohen, O.M.D., L.Ac.

Through clinical observation and treatment of thousands of people with HIV and AIDS, clinical evaluation of the tongues of over 600 people with HIV infection and/or AIDS, and the use of pulse diagnosis, I have come to understand that HIV infection is triggered by Toxic Heat, and initially attacks the Spleen and Stomach Organ Systems. They are the central organs involved in this complex syndrome and must be supported throughout the entire course of the disease even when the HIV-related disharmonies expand to involve all the other organ systems as well.

The Impact of Toxic Heat

Toxic Heat creates the initial flu-like symptoms that for many people accompany initial exposure to HIV. And as the Toxic Heat moves more deeply into all systems of the body, it triggers a whole variety of common HIV-related symptoms: Pruritis (chronic itching), sore throats, increase in body temperature, feeling like you always have a fever even if one is not present, a nagging sensation that something toxic is present in the body.

Toxic Heat is also responsible for the cascade of Organ System disharmonies in the Spleen and Stomach, Kidney and Liver, which contribute to the major complication associated with HIV infection, wasting. (For detailed information on nutritional management and therapy see the Diet Therapy chapter beginning on page? and the three-part Wasting Program: The Daily Diary; The Cleansing Diet; the Anti-Wasting Program in The HIV Wellness Sourcebook.)

Role of the Spleen and Stomach Systems in the Progression from HIV to AIDS

The Spleen and Stomach Systems govern the digestive process, transforming food energy and fluid into Qi and Xue (blood). As a result the Spleen and Stomach moisten and nurture all the other Organ Systems and channels.

When Toxic Heat disrupts the Spleen and Stomach Systems, it triggers symptoms that are associated with the very early stages of HIV infection. These symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • inability to gain weight no matter how much is eaten
  • stools
  • bloating, gas and flatulence and/or dull pain in the abdomen
  • needing to take naps after meals
  • frequent infections.

In addition, symptoms of early stage HIV infection, such as dry skin and lips, set in when the flow of fluids and food essence from the Spleen and Stomach to the Lungs, is disrupted. Often dryness in one area, triggers dampness in another: Spleen Qi deficiency with dampness manifests in early neuropathy (a numbness or tingling sensation often in the hands or feet, lymphadenopathy (swelling and inflammation of the lymph nodes), vaginal candidiasis (yeast) infections, more serious loose stools and/or bloating. Spleen-related diarrhea is prevalent with loose stools and abdominal bloating after eating. Skin rashes, commonly associated with early-stage HIV infection, are a result of Spleen Qi deficiency and Lung disharmonies interacting with the essential substances.

Spleen Qi deficiency also causes deficient Xue (blood). Once this sets in, the door is opened to allow Toxic Heat to enter the depleted blood and penetrate ever deeper into the body. The body them moves into more advanced stages of HIV/AIDS. If unchecked, an increasing depletion of the fluids of the Spleen (the Spleen's Yin aspect) leads to overall Yin deficiency, which in turn can lead to Yang depletion.

Although today the combination of Western and Chinese therapies can arrest (for some period of time) the progression of HIV infection to end-stage AIDS for many people, when the cascade of Spleen-Stomach triggered disorders causes overall Yin deficiency and Yang depletion, wasting becomes severe. Diarrhea stops. The skin becomes drier and drier. Thirst is unquenchable. Fevers spike every afternoon and often in the evenings. The pulse is rapid, thready and superficial. This is a terminal stage of HIV disease. (ED: Yes it is called HIV disease.) Acupuncture and herbs are used to support the Shen (spirit) and the passing over to a new phase of existence.

Associated Disharmonies and Opportunistic Infections

Toxic Heat and the Spleen-Stomach disharmonies weaken the body's overall resistance to assault from both internal and external disease factors and allow other organ systems to become involved. This leads to the development of HIV-related disorders and opportunistic infections. For example, if Toxic heat assaults the Lungs, PCP (Pneumocystis Carinii pneumonia) may develop. Xue disharmonies are associated with Kaposi's sarcoma (a proliferative, circulatory cell disease that causes skin lesions); dampness is associated with candidiasis (yeast infections) and fungal invasions; Yin deficiency and Xue deficiency are associated with MAC (Mycobacterium Avian Complex) ; dampness and Spleen and Lung disharmonies may manifest as chronic sinusitis; disturbed Shen that is associated with mental disturbances that accompany HIV/AIDS; and many more.

Each of these syndromes is detailed in the individual treatment programs in the last section of the book. However, I wanted to make the point here that looking at HIV disease as an assault by Toxic Heat that starts with damage to the Spleen and Stomach, and moves on to include other organ systems and Essential Substances, provides a concise method of describing, diagnosing and treating the whole constellation of HIV-related diseases.


About the Author

When Misha Cohen first started on her path of learning traditional Chinese medicine, she took an hour-long train ride from Brooklyn to the South Bronx in order to attend one of the first acupuncture schools in the nation. Affiliated with the nearby Lincoln detox center, the school specialized in teaching people how to use acupuncture and herbs to treat drug addiction, borrowing learned methods used by the Chinese for centuries to treat opium addiction.

Cohen has spent the last 20 years practicing traditional Chinese medicine in California and is currently clinical director of the Chicken Soup Chinese Medicine clinic in San Francisco. She has authored a wide range of books on the subject, including The Chinese Way to Healing: Many Paths to Wholeness, and the HIV Wellness Source Book. She is considered to be one of the top 50 HIV researchers in the country.

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