As we shall see, it explains it not in elusive and archaic terms but in hard science, science that now powers the most exciting medical avenue of the modern era stem cell research. Fascia fleshes out Qi into morphogens, super-powerful substances in our body that guide us from cells into complex beings and are being shown to be central in cancer. Most intriguingly, fascia explains the internal pathways, the pathways of Qi through the body that connect the internal organs before emerging on the outside through the channels on the arms and legs.
They are the conduit by which Qi moves from the outside to the inside and why a point on the arm can affect the stomach or kidney. These paths become self-evident when you map the pathways of fascia. Fascia is the overlooked link between Acupuncture and anatomy. The principal ingredient of fascia is collagen. Collagen is found everywhere in the body. It forms not only our fascia, but also tendons, ligaments, the cartilage in our joints; it is present in artery walls, gives bones their tensile strength, and forms the connective tissue within the organs. It even allows you to see, forming the lens of the eye, and heal, forming scar tissue.
It is no surprise then that collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, making up about a third of our total body protein. Collagen fibres are not only the most common type of protein in the body, they also have remarkable properties. Collagen is a triple helix. Most people are familiar with the double helix structure of DNA, so the triple helix of collagen requires just a little more imagination.
This triple helix is formed from collagen sub-units, called tropo-collagen, which then spontaneously self-assemble. Three triple helix strands of collagen then spontaneously form another triple helix to create a super helix which is called a microfibril. Finally, these fibrils are laid down along lines of stress.
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The whole array means that collagen is a semi-crystalline structure; that is, there is a regular repeating order of atoms in two dimensions. Collagen is essential to the body, and the process of making collagen relies heavily on vitamin C. This is why sailors on long voyages used to bleed excessively from their gums: the wounds wouldnt heal because scar tissue is made from collagen, and their poor diet provided few vitamins.
Captain James Cook realised the importance of fresh fruit, despite not knowing about vitamins, and would raid tropical islands for their bounties of fresh fruit. His sailors new-found strength allowed him to circumnavigate the globe on the Endeavour and complete the type of journeys which have been immortalised in the adventures of Captain James Kirk and the Enterprise! Collagen is not only the substance that glues the body together, it is also the substance that antiquity used to glue things together.
In ancient times the skin and sinews of animals were boiled to down to make gelatine, which is pure collagen, to be used as glue. The structure of collagen is created at an atomic level and this gives it enormous strength per weight it is as strong as steel! This strength is vitally important since it is the base material in bones, arteries, muscles, tendons and fascia. Collagens strength is so great that it can become a problem. Fascia arranges the body into compartments, areas enclosed by fascia in which the only entry and exit points are narrow conduits for vessels and nerves.
This serves an important role because it protects the contents within from spreading infection and also clearly delineates one part of the body from another. The compartments are analogous to rooms in a house where the only way in and out is through small windows or doors. Sometimes, injury can make the contents swell up. The strength of the collagen in the fascia will not yield to this rise in pressure and if there is no release then eventually it will cut off the blood supply. When this happens the contents become starved of oxygenated blood, swelling further as the cells start to die, in what becomes a vicious circle.
Collagen not only has great tensile strength, it also has electrical properties that are all but ignored by Western science. Collagen has properties that include piezoelectricity, the ability to generate tiny electrical currents when an object is deformed. The sparks in cigarette lighters produce their magic by deforming tiny quartz crystals in the same process. That means that every time we move any part of our body we are creating tiny electrical currents.
The effect of weak collagen can be seen in the tragically beautiful blue eyes of babies with a disease called osteogenesis imperfecta. The whites of their eyes appear blue as the collagen is weak and allows light back through to reveal the colour of the underlying veins. The name of the disease, however, is Latin for imperfect bone creation and usually presents itself with frequent broken bones in babies. Bone has two types of strength: it is both hard and incompressible and also has great tensile strength.
The former properties arise from the hydroxyapatite crystals, made of calcium and phosphate, which give bone its white sheen. Tensile strength is the ability to resist being broken and, surprisingly, it is not the crystals that create this but the collagen. The crystals are there to make the collagen stiff. The lines of stress in bone are normally well demarcated; when you land from a jump the pressure is transmitted along your skeleton in certain predictable ways. The body responds to these lines of stress logically by strengthening the bone in these directions. These lines are visible on X-rays as trabeculae, fine white lines in the bone which, when disturbed, are useful markers for spotting subtle fractures.
Since collagen is not visible on an X-ray, the white lines are not collagen but are the chalky crystals of calcium and phosphate which have been laid down to add a marble-like hardness. In fascia, muscles and tendons there are no crystals that are visible on an X-ray. However, the same process is occurring: the collagen fibres are laid down so that they are along stress-lines, giving it enormous tensile strength.
Collagen in the form of cowgut is, after all, the substance with which Bjrn Borg won five Wimbledon Championships. In bone, though, what collagen does is more remarkable than provide strength. Collagen is semi-crystalline and one of the properties of crystals is that they are piezoelectric. Bone is also piezoelectric and as one author puts it : it has been shown that after decollagenation of bone no piezoelectric effect is observed.
The major contributor to the piezoelectricity in bone is therefore the collagen. Piezoelectricity is what allows your cigarette lighter to produce that tiny spark.
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It is static electricity created by bending a crystal, and it is being created all the time in our body. The importance of the piezoelectric effect in the bone is still being elucidated. We know that it is the orientation of the collagen fibres that stimulates bone growth. When, for instance, you land from a jump the bones in your legs subtly bend and flex to absorb the shock. This flex is felt right the way through the bone, but the areas under most stress will flex the most.
The collagen fibres in these areas will deform the most and so produce more electrical charge. This charge will then be detected by bone cells osteoblasts , which will start laying down new crystals onto the collagen fibres. The result of this is that the bone in this area becomes harder and less flexible: the bone is stronger exactly where it needs to be. This process is occurring all the time. Even subtly shifting your weight while reading this has caused this effect. The reason that astronauts lose so much bone mass when they go into space is because they lose this piezoelectricity.
Without any gravitational stress on their bones the collagen stops producing any electricity. Even rigorous daily exercise cannot make up for the constant stressing produced by gravity. After a year in space astronauts are so fragile that the bones of these ultra-fit soldiers are like those of geriatrics. In space, astronauts lose at least 1 per cent of their bone per month4 and nothing seems to be able to stop this. This piezoelectric effect is what Dr Becker exploited to produce his bone-healing machines, and electricity and bone growth have become so linked within the scientific world that there are now hundreds of scientific papers on this.
The UKs leading orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore routinely uses electrical devices to aid bone healing. However, what is definitely known is that collagen produces electricity, and electricity guides bone growth. There is no reason to think that the collagen in the rest of the body isnt producing electricity when it is deformed. It is a property of collagen that produces the electricity, not of the bone, and the collagen elsewhere in fascia is exactly the same type.
Collagen in fascia is laid down along lines of mechanical stress every time it is stretched or moved it will generate tiny electrical charges. This electricity is completely ignored by Western medical doctors ask any doctors about it and you will almost certainly be met with blank looks. Yet it is quite astonishing that the connective fabric of our body, the tissue that wraps and joins our entire body, is in effect an interconnected, living electrical web.
This is so similar to the ancient Chinese descriptions of Acupuncture channels and Qi that it is remarkable. Collagen is not only an electrical producer, it also has very interesting conduction properties: it is a semiconductor. These are the same properties that give computers their intelligence. The structure of collagen suggests further properties that are on the edge of our current understanding of the body.
Collagen is a triple helix and there is speculation although no research that it will conduct electricity much better down its length than across it. If this was the case then it would mean that the microstructure of fascia may have far more order and importance that we give it credit for. The interesting electrical properties of collagen are intriguing, since everything in the body is electric.
The pump constantly throws out three sodium ions in exchange for letting two potassium ions in. This creates a net charge of negative ions within the cell, resulting in a tiny electrical charge across the cell. Without this charge the cell cannot function, and within minutes of this pump stopping working the electrical charge would disappear and the cell would swell up and die! Electricity is essential to life. The effect of electricity within the body moves beyond the grind of cellular existence.
Nerves in the body use it to transmit information, muscle uses it to force contractions, and the brain uses it to think. The hearts rhythm comes from an electrical pacemaker, and the eyes even use electricity to register photons. As Becker7 would say, we really are Body Electrics, constantly emitting and absorbing an invisible silent energy that permeates all around us at the speed of light.
Every physiological process, every movement, every thought could be seen to have a twofold basis in reality: a physical reality and an energy reality. When the heart beats, the physical movement can be felt with your hand, or seen using ultrasound, but the electrical reality can be seen even more clearly with an electrocardiogram ECG. Western medicine relies upon this test so often because in many ways this energy reality is more real than the physical reality, and is certainly easier to measure.
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Increasingly, science is realising that electricity not only governs how we function, it also governs how we form. Electricity has been shown to tell stem cells where to move to, one of the most vital aspects of embryology. In the midst of this electrical world sits collagen, omnipresent and connecting to everything. It is accepted within Western medicine as the key constituent of our connective tissue, its strength supporting our body. As both an electrical semiconductor and an electrical generator of piezoelectricity, collagens pre-eminence in the body may go beyond its mechanical strength.
An electrical force held in a fabric into which our body is woven: this is science that is beginning to sound like Chinese medicine and Qi. No word has been so misunderstood in the West as Qi. This is partly a failure in translation, not only of the word but of culture and meaning too.
The Chinese may have been intransigent, in the same manner in which they guarded the secrets of silk, but equally important has been a failure of the West to try to understand. The word Qi is used in many forms apart from the medical sense and it is useful to look at how Qi is used elsewhere in the Chinese language. Written Chinese uses characters rather than letters and often combines characters to create different words.
Each part of the new word is known as a radical.
In the case of Qi, there are literally hundreds of words that have been formed using Qi as a radical. In terms of etymology, Qi therefore appears to be a homologue for airwhich makes you wonder why the ancients would have used a word such as Qi in relation to the rather solid thing that is the human body.
There is air in the human body, of course. There is air in the lungs and air dissolved into the blood and body fluids. This air is mainly in the form of oxygen and carbon dioxide, but there are trace amounts of nitrogen and other gases. Air in the form of carbon dioxide and oxygen is the fundamental basis of our metabolism in fact these two gases alone can be used in scientific tests to elucidate our total body metabolism over any given period.
Did the ancient Chinese have this in mind when they were talking about Qi? The Chinese character for Qi also gives clues to its meaning. Many Chinese characters emerged from drawings, which over time became more simplified and lost some of their artistic credentials. Normally, however, they retain the essence of what was being conveyed.
In the case of Qi, the character is written in two parts. The upper part represents steam, or air or possibly even clouds. The lower part is the character for rice which is being cooked; it is drawn as rice which is literally popping open. Which is correct? Is Qi metabolism, or is Qi air or space? The answer is that both are correct and more. Metabolic energy, in a sense, is defined by air; cut off the air supply to an organism and both its Qi and metabolism will disappear. However, Qi is too broad to be a substance; it is more a concept, which is one reason why Western science has struggled to pin it down.
It shares more with philosophy than with science, with concepts or abstractions. Abstractions remain the root of our scientific rationale, however. The simplest abstraction of all is into subjective and objective, the idea that there is a world outside of us which is somehow real and the world within us which is imaginary.
For instance, the principle of gravity appears to be always true in the outer world, but in our subjective world this is not always the case for example, dreams are not always about real situations. Qi is an abstraction that straddles these two worlds because Qi is the force created by the objective world that powers our subjective world.
Qi is more than metabolism; Qi is intelligent and organised metabolism. It is the difference between a fire, and the fire in a jet engine: one just creates heat; the other creates heat that is channelled and focused. This difference is extremely important to understand: metabolism is dumb; Qi is intelligent. As we shall see, Qi is more like the production from a large power station than a jet engine. A power station, a complex and large building, takes fuel and converts it into a very powerful yet subtle substance called electricity which runs in relatively thin wires.
The energy is present throughout the process but gets increasingly concentrated to serve the purposes of the station. Qi in the body does this too and the concentration occurs not in wires but in channels in the body formed between fascia. If you looked at the power station without understanding about this invisible electrical force, you may come to the conclusion that the thin wires that left it were rather unimportant.
You could make the same mistake with the body. Qi as intelligent metabolism becomes a very large subject. The science of metabolism is immense, covering large swathes of biochemistry and physiologybut very little anatomy. What Acupuncture and fascial Qi theory promises is to combine these two, to allow form and function to follow each other. It is like a new branch of medicine, apart from the fact that it is not we are just rediscovering the oldest medicine in existence.
To understand this better we need to go back to the beginning of time again, this time not in the dark spaces of the fallopian tubes but in one of the weirdest places on Earth the laboratory at the Roslin Institute. When the scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh sparked Dolly the Cloned Sheep into life it was a truly stupendous achievement. Cloning is not simple, regardless of how it looks in the pages of the Daily Mail. To create a cloned creature the scientists take an unfertilised egg from the mother.
Since the DNA within this egg is only half complete, they remove it. Into this empty egg they then inject the DNA from one of the mothers cells. This DNA is complete, but they have a problem: it is also mature. As Dollys mother had grown, her DNA had matured too, and in the process lost the unbounded potential of youth. The mother DNA may have been programmed to be a skin cell on the hand, or a freckle, or a liver cell, but in the process of becoming mature it has turned on certain DNA and locked off most of the rest.
In order for this DNA to produce a new Dolly the scientists have to unlock this DNA, winding back the clock to make it think it is young again. This last point is important wicked witches in fairy tales clamoured for this type of thing and, as we shall see, winding back the clock is not meant to be done; factals create massively different results from very similar starting positions think DNA. Trying, but failing, to wind back the clock to get the exact starting position is why the bizarre aberrations in cloning happen. The ingredients of life may have all been put into place, but that did not mean that life was present.
The cell consisted of a new egg cell with the mature maternal DNA unlocked within, but there was still no life, and this is where it gets weird. Dr Frankenstein was right. He wildly overestimated how much electricity you would need but had exactly the right idea. The scientists at Roslin used a dose of electricity so small that it would barely disturb dust; it turned out there was no need for rickety lightning conductors perched atop gothic mansions.
The tiny jolt of electricity did something truly astonishing: it kicked the cell into life! I am sure the irony of using Dr Frankensteins methods was not lost on the scientists who created Dolly, a sheep who was incidentally named in honour of Dolly Partons twin assets. The process was not as smooth as is suggested: it took attempts to make Dolly and in the process they created monsters of various proportions and shapes.
Cloning causes truly freakish things to happen: giant creatures, dwarves, true mutants with multiple heads and too many limbs. Cloning is playing with the very building blocks of life and it is no wonder that it causes the delicate flower of organisation to go haywire. Regardless of the ethical considerations, the implications of this are truly staggering: life can be created with electricity!
What is it about electricity that enables it to produce life? It is a question that moves to the very centre of our existence, for our lives are governed by electricity. The fingers typing on this keyboard are doing so by electrical charges moving down from my brain. My muscles are contracting as a result of electrical charges. These very thoughts are mirrored in electrical activity in my brain. Our life is electric, and what is bio-electricity if not concentrated metabolism, pure bio-energy, what Chinese medicine sees as Qi? The parallels between Qi and electricity are intriguing.
Science often balks at the idea of Qi as a vague invisible force but is quite happy to believe in the vague invisible force of electricity. We all know that electricity travels in power lines, but when you place a fluorescent bulb near a power line it will glow. Is the electricity in the air or the line? If it is in the air then how is it travelling? If its electrons then where do they end, and if its a force field why do they talk about electrons?
Electricity constantly poses more questions than it answers. Cloning Sheep with Qi Similarly, the argument that Qi cannot exist because we cannot see it is fallacious. Qi is visible in the same way that electricity is visible: through its effects. Anyone claiming that pixie dust is moving an electric motor would be laughed at, since we all know the truth. It is not the electricity you see, only the effect of the electricity.
It is the same in the body: all your actions, whether it be sleeping, laughing or running, are an effect of Qi. That is the proof. What about lightning? You can see that! The same is true of metabolic energy or Qi, though. Humans emit light; it is just so faint that only machines can measure it. Strangely, it appears to come most strongly out of the fingernails in a similar way to which evil-Qi is seen in popular fiction such as Star Wars evil Emperor.
The light emitted is called biophotons and it is an accepted scientific fact. Eerily, again just like Star Wars Emperor, these biophotons are in the same spectrum of light as the light from lightning: the near-ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Francis Popp, a German scientist, believes that these biophotons are an expression of Qi, and represent an ability of the cells of the organism to stay together. The channels of Qi in the body end at the fingernails and toes, the same places where biophoton emission is strongest.
When people get sick or old the rate of biophotons has been found to increase,3 and the same happens on the same side of the body as a stroke. Acupuncture has been shown to balance this out in stroke patients. It is not known whether biophotons are Qi, but what is definitely known is that most of them emerge from the DNA of our mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells and the origin of energy in our body. Some studies also show that biophotons are coherent.
Light having intelligence or memory may appear to be of interest only to quantum physicists, but in the body this is incredible! The research into this is so poor that we are still really in the dark. The problem is that to measure biophotons you have to measure light at one-thousandth the intensity of what a person can see.
This means that you need very expensive equipment and people who are willing to do an awful lot of sitting around. Biophotons may be a physical manifestation of Qi, or they may just be a by-product of cellular reactions. Further research is needed and until then biophotons remain more of a curiosity than any evidence of Qi. What they do show, though, is that, like electricity, our bodies can produce light and that this light is altered in disease states.
The argument against Qi existing therefore becomes an argument born of stubborness. If Qi is invisible it is only because energy generally is. If Qi is vague and difficult to pin down it is again no different to electricity. To argue against the existence of Qi is to argue against life itself. What powers life?
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Western medicine concerns itself with the minutiae of the cells, the way in which oxygen and sugar combine in the mitochondria to produce ATP, the incredible machinery that powers each cell, the cells that group together to form organs, muscles, bones, testes and even the drums in our ears. Only in embryology does it concern itself with the question How? How do all the cells work together? What drives them to cooperate? Embryology goes into more and more detail about growth factors and messengers and cell types until the description is a complicated mess.
Qi is much more useful as a concept because it is unifying. To create teamwork that is more than the individual. To bind together to produce you, warts and all. Qi is the energy produced by each cell, the binding force between those cells and the work they produce: the sum of all metabolism. For want of a better phrase, the term life force comes to mind. There is no comparable force within Western medicine. Many people try to equate Qi with nerve and brain energy, but nerves cannot explain organogenesis, the process by which organs create themselves and then work harmoniously, and why incredible organisation has formed in the embryo way before any nerves have appeared in the fourth week.
Qi is more than merely cellular metabolic energy; it is developmental energy, cooperative energy. If a football team analogy was used, then Qi would be both the energy of each player and the invisible bonds that bind the team together. These bonds may be sounds i. Football teams train for hours, days, months, yearseven decades to build up this rapport, yet if you asked the manager to show this Team Qi then he would shrug his shoulders and tell you to watch them play. Yet without this energy the team is impotent.
You could place the 11 greatest players of all time on a pitch, and without the invisible energy of team-ship they could be beaten by a well- organised pub team. The same is true a trillion times over for the greatest team of all, the 11 trillion cells that make up Team You. This is why Qi is so important, because it is unifying rather than reductionist. There is no equivalent concept within Western medicine and this is one reason why it opens up avenues of healing that do not exist in the West.
If Qi is intelligent metabolism team metabolism then what would Qi consist of in Western science? Which forces in the body would create it? It would have to be a product of cellular energy, organ energy, and then, most importantly for Acupuncture, the energy of communication and of intelligent cooperation. The metabolism and energy production of cells has been well studied by Western medicine. In fact, the physiology of energy production is known to the atomic level and it is truly incredible. The reality is that each of us at a cellular level consists of not one but two creatures.
Each animal cell consists of the eukaryotic cell within which lives mitochondria. These two organisms fused billions of years ago and this fusion resulted in an explosion of evolution. The mitochondria, however, still maintain their own DNA and cell wall some scientists even believe that they havesex. It really is the original beautiful relationship, over three billion years old and still going strong. Eukaryote and mitochondria are wholly dependent on each other to survive a symbiotic relationship.
The cells provide the mitochondria with everything they need: sugar, oxygen, a few amino acids and a cosy safe place to do what they do best. They nurture the mitochondria like precious children. In return the mitochondria take in sugar and oxygen and churn out molecules of adenosine triphosphate ATP , cellular dynamite. ATP powers just about every cellular action from muscle contraction, to nerve impulses, through heartbeats and on to ion pumps. ATP is the most important form of cellular energy but there are other molecules that the mitochondria produce. Without the mitochondria the cell is doomed; if cyanide poisons the mitochondria, death occurs in minutes.
The role of mitochondria goes beyond energy production, though. They are also instrumental in programmed cell death apoptosis. Programmed cell death is one of the most important. It literally stamps out your body in 3D: your fingers are formed because the cells in between them are told to die. The mitochondria kill the cell by flooding it with calcium, and are told to do this either because the cell is old and defective, or because the cell is not part of the bigger plan of the body.
It is not surprising then that mitochondria themselves are implicated in cancer. Early on in evolution the bizarreness of cell suicide apoptosis emerged at a time when cells started living together, and this moment in evolution coincided with mitochondria fusing with animal cells. Mitochondria allowed cells to live when grouped together, and for some reason at this point the mitochondria became not just the providers of life but also the bringers of death.
Mitochondrial defects are associated with lethargy, chronic tiredness, organ failure and early death. Mitochondria produce the energy that we use, but this isnt where our energy ends but rather where the energy begins. The cell is much more than the power station.
The cell has an immense database called DNA, housed in a nucleus. These messengers then leave the nucleus to make proteins, and then these proteins spontaneously self-assemble to make the cell. The beauty of this cannot be understated. Imagine a factory with a control centre that churns out instructions on how to build the parts of the factory: the bricks, pipes, cabling, roof, conveyor belts, nuts, boltsthe lot.
Another part of the factory takes these messages and assembles these parts from bits hanging around. These bits then self-organise and go exactly where they are needed. The roof goes to the roof, cabling goes to where it is needed, and so on. The parts all join up in just the right way to keep the factory. The factory takes everything it needs from around itself, not only producing very little waste but in the process producing many useful things.
Then put several trillion of these perfect micro-factories together and turn them into a body! The intelligence in this is immense. In nature, life is not the only self-forming substance: crystals too exhibit this same property. Interestingly, the collagen network that binds us together within fascia has been compared with a liquid crystal mesh4 that may go some way to explaining our ability to self-form. The cell then not only creates energy for itself, through enabling mitochondria, but also produces substances that enable the cell to work.
Furthermore, it produces useful substances for the body to function as a whole, to be more than its parts. The cells work is directed and intelligent. Just as the cell is self-forming, so multiple cells then group together in a common purpose to perform a shared role.
When this purpose is vital, we call this anorgan. The classic description of the division of labour of the body within both Chinese and Western medicine is into organs. One defining aspect of an organ is that it is surrounded by its own fascia, be it the pericardium around the heart, Gerotas fascia around the kidney or periosteum around the bone.
This fascia both defines the organs and limits them. It encapsulates them but also constrains them. The cells within these fascial envelopes, forming these organs, all contain a common shared purpose which unites them the functions of the organ. This shared purpose has its own energy. In the heart it serves to move blood; the kidney energy is there to filter and remove waste products from the watery part of the blood; the lungs extract goodness from the air, and so on.
Every cell in the organ works towards this shared aim, even though there are many different cell types. For instance: in the heart, pacemaker cells create the first spark of electricity that starts the heartbeat then the conducting tissue cells transmit this spark the cells in a tiny region of the heart called the AV node slow this down to allow the atria of the heart to empty first then the pulse spreads out to the muscle cells of the ventricles which contract pushing blood out the cells that made the chordae tympani the heart strings pull to close the valves finally, the aortic valve opens and the blood rushes out.
This process occurs every second of every day. There are many different cells, with many different functions, but their unity of purpose creates a common energy. They have to work together as one, otherwise disease would erupt. If the pacemaker cells do not fire then the heart will not start, and will go too slowly or not at all. All of these cells perform different roles they have different parts of their DNA and different proteins working in them, they have had a different evolution, but, despite this, they work together in perfect harmony.
They do this for a purpose. This purpose is greater than the sum of its parts and we call it the function of the organ. It is a distinct entity that creates harmonic resonance, and this resonance can be measured by us or with machines. In the case of the heart, the electrical harmonies within this are easily read using an ECG, the mechanical harmony by feeling the pulse, and the harmony of the fluttering of the valves can be seen by using an echocardiogram.
The brain creates electrical waves that correspond to our state of consciousness. When the harmonic oscillation is at 3 Hz we feel sleepy, at 8 Hz we are either dreaming or awake, and at 30Hz we are multitasking! The lung vibrates with every breath and can be measured with spirometry. A wave of contraction moves down the guts at a resonance of around 7 Hz. The kidneys produce their magic at such a nano-scale that no machine can measure the function of the nephrons, but these nephrons pulse with every beat of the heart. The functions of the organs are so distinct that organs are able to be transplanted they are interchangeable.
When this is done, surgeons use the fascia to tell them where the organ ends. The importance of this is that the organ has its own metabolism, its own energy: its own Qi. It is more than the sum. Organ Qi Chinese medicine also believes in this unity of purpose of organs but it measures the Qi of the organ instead of these other parameters.
Qi is shown through the strength of a heart beating, or the ability of the lungs to take a deep breath, or the bladder to pee strongly, but it is also something more than these abstracted functions. Qi is the totality of the function of the organ. The Qi is the strength of the organisational energy in the organ, and those component parts: pulse strength, lung capacity, urine output an aspect of this rather than this. This organisation of the cells is called physiology, but when it goes wrong it becomes pathology.
In the body, pathology and disorder are really the same thing, and disorder can be characterised in certain ways. Disorder of organisational energy can be weak and ineffectual, or too strong and invading; it can be going the wrong way, not going at all or just going plain crazy.
However, these are not just the descriptions of how organisations can misbehave but also the descriptions that Chinese medicine gives to Qi pathology. When Chinese physicians talk about Qi pathologies, they could equally be talking about how organisation goes wrong in the body. If the Qi organisational energy in the heart is too weak then it starts to beat weakly or slowly; if the Qi is too strong and it beats too powerfully then hypertension emerges and it invades and damages other organs such as the brain or kidney; if the Qi goes the wrong way you get arrhythmias which cause the heart to beat irregularly; crazy Qi gives you more serious arrhythmias and no Qi at all means you need to make your peace with God You can apply this to any organ, but each organ has its own dynamic resonance, its own organisation, and so the Qi within it is different.
The Heart is Yang and full of electricity, but the Liver is Yin and full of blood see Part III so organisational energy problems here present differently and through the Qi of the blood. The Lungs manage our breath and so when its Qi goes the wrong way it causes us to cough; weak Lung Qi leads to breathlessness; and, rarely, the Lung Qi can get too strong and can invade the heart. A strong Gut gives us a strong digestion, so when its Qi is weak so is our digestion.
When it rebels and goes the wrong way so does your food; when it is too strong and invades it causes a build-up of Phlegm what most in the West call fat. The disorders of organisational energy in our body are further subdivided into what the ancient Chinese Taoists would have called the 10, things: these are the countless diseases of Western medicine.
This complexity can be incredibly powerful, allowing very specific treatments. However, simplicity also has its own innate power. Qi, the organisational force of the body, moves according to simple laws, yet like water it carries with it different properties depending on its location. Water in rivers, oceans, lakes, streams, glaciers and even clouds remains water but has very different characters.
Lakes are still, clouds rise, oceans roll, rivers flow. Despite these characteristics, water moves in predictable and simple ways. Qi behaves like this it has different characters depending on where it is found but remains in essence the same thing. This simplicity allows very simple treatments based on its disorder. Acupuncture relies upon this uniformity of Qi whilst celebrating its different manifestations. Organ Qi in Chinese medicine does a lot more than simply provide a physical basis for the body; it also provides an emotional platform for the mind and body to interact. For instance, the Kidney in Chinese medicine handles our relationship with fear.
It enables us to engage with fear appropriately. Escaped lions down the high street should cause our adrenals part of the Kidney, in Chinese medicine to go into overdrive but reading a book on lions shouldnt. You may perceive and cognate the emotion of fear in the head, but it is the adrenal gland that enables this communication with the body. That record-breaking metres away from the lion real or imagined is not produced by thinking fear, it is produced by feeling fear.
Your body physically feels the adrenaline your adrenals release. The adrenaline has caused extra power in your muscles from an influx of calcium, sugar to be released from fat, and blood to be diverted from your gut to your vital organs. None of this happens in your head it happens in your body. Thinking fear wont make this happen; you need adrenaline to create your mind body interaction. All the organs have strong emotional ties via hormones. The adrenals produce adrenaline; the gut, serotonin a calming happy hormone ; the liver cleans up histamine, the hormone of irritability; and the heart is affected by all the other hormones.
You cannot feel fear to the same extent without your adrenals; when your liver fails you become irritable and twitchy encephalopathic ; and it is difficult to feel happy, content, replete when your gut is malfunctioning. Each organ then has its own organising energy, its own Qi, but the Qi of these organs needs to inter-relate.
A failing heart will cause the kidney to react by producing more stress hormones, a process that can cause the heart to fail further the common class of drugs known as angiotensin converting enzyme ACE inhibitors work by interrupting this destructive feedback loop. Emphysematous lungs that fail to absorb enough oxygen will starve the heart of energy and cause it to weaken, which will cause the kidneys to stress, and so on Everything is connected and the connections are equally as important as the organs.
One way in which the organs stay connected is through hormones released into the blood, but this plays little role in embryological development. Instead, there is another, more important, more primal force, which we look at in the next chapter. In the very early embryogenesis of the organism, communication was achieved by cell-to-cell contact. As the embryo developed and the cells began to number in their tens of millions, superhighways of information were needed.
The fascial planes emerged from the middle embryological layer, the mesoderm, as a way of both delineating tissues and organs and enabling them to stay connected. After all, they were not given the name connective tissue for nothing. The publisher asked me to draw these fascial planes. I explained that it was like trying to draw clingfilm you can only see what is underneath.
At first the fascial planes were simple but they rapidly became like origami. Origami starts simply but ends up fiendishly complicated. The starting point is a piece of paper with a single plane of existence up and down. Simply by folding this plane, swans, elephants, airplanes and even paper people can be made. Origami is about a single plane of existence and a lot of folding.
The body has a middle layer that creates yet more complexity, but the principles of origami still hold it must stay connected. These connections persist in adult life as three simple layers in three dimensions : the outer part, which forms skin and nervous system the inner part the Yolk Sac , which forms gut and glands; and the middle part, which forms all else blood, bone, fascia and muscle.
These three layers are named in Latin and are known, respectively, as ectoderm, endoderm and mesoderm. The devil is, however, in the detail. Whilst in essence the body is simple, and this simplicity can still be seen in our primitive evolutionary ancestors, the sophistication of our bodies requires epic levels of folding. The gut folds over and over so it can squeeze 30 feet of tubing into our belly, the brain folds into itself to maximise the surface area it can use to process information, and the heart folds to accommodate the turbulent flow of blood.
Every part of our body has been folded in some way. Organs can thus appear very complex but all start from these same three layers, and their fascial planes are normally very simple. The lung grows out as a bud from your gullet and despite how complex the organ becomes its fascial connection remains this simple. The heart is nothing more than a convoluted tube, so its origini remains a tube.
The kidney is more complex, consisting of two primitive precursor kidneys that fuse together one end is plumbing and the other is the filtration unit. Furthermore, it has a large blood supply which brings its own fasciathe body may be origami but it isnt that simple! The fascia defines and encapsulates organs, and we know that it is difficult for biological things to pass across fascia but relatively easy to pass along it.
This is true of fluid, hormones, blood, air, even electricity. We know this because surgeons know and use this fact every day. Cancers malignancy is defined by its perversion of this rule: in health, things travel between fascia not through it. The organs are within the fascia, but they also connect with other organs. How do they know when to stop growing? Why do they not invade each other or steal their blood? The organs must communicate, not only to be able to grow together but also to live together. All that folding may be simple in essence, but what is telling the body to fold?
We know that organs secrete substances that affect other cells our bodies are a seething mass of hormones constantly communicating messages to other cells and organs. These hormones are transmitted in the blood and enable organs to communicate with the rest of the body simultaneously. This form of communication is different to developmental communication that embryological theory envisages. Hormones travel to distant sites to exert their effects and need to do this quickly. Insulin produced by the pancreas goes to every cell in the body, and its transmission through the blood is necessary for its immediacy of effect.
There would be little point in it slowly diffusing out from the pancreas because by the time this had happened the damage from high sugar levels would have been done. Furthermore, hormones by their nature exert their action at distant sites; their blood-borne nature means they have no specificity.
The guiding forces of embryogenesis need to act locally, otherwise they risk causing anarchy. Not only that, but whatever is guiding embryogenesis cannot be occurring entirely within the blood simply because early development of the embryo occurs before blood vessels are formed. In just the same way that primitive animals are bloodless, so are our embryological beginnings. Blood is only widespread in the embryo at the end of the fourth week, by which time there are at least 20, cells living in perfect harmony.
Inter-organ Qi, inter-organ developmental communication, must be another form of communication that is more primal and simple than hormones and predates nerves, a form that strangely enough involves Sonic Hedgehog, about which more later. There are many problems with most theories of Acupuncture proposed by the Western scientific community. The primary problem always seems to emerge as a result of a failure to accept what the Chinese have to say about Acupuncture.
One of the most commonly cited theories amongst doctors is the endorphin theory of Acupuncture. This was based on research that was done in the s after the world was astounded by what Richard Nixon saw on his state visit to China. The Chinese, it appeared, were doing open-heart surgery with Acupuncture as anaesthesia! It is worth pointing out that these operations were rarely done with Acupuncture anaesthesia alone.
Rather, they were done with a combination of sedation and Acupuncture. The combination of these two allowed the operation to be done without a general anaesthetic and so was cheaper, still an important consideration in China. While it can be done manually, Acupuncture anaesthesia is done using electro-Acupuncture as otherwise somebody has to spend the entire time rotating the needle to stimulate the channel. Regardless of how Acupuncture anaesthesia works, the result of this was that Acupuncture was catapulted into the Western consciousness.
Suddenly, the scientific community needed to provide answers about how placing a few needles into somebodys arm could allow you to do open-heart surgery. Western science. On a visit to China I struggled to understand how my attempts to ask for cha could be mistaken for anything but tea. A friend put me right and explained that it has 24 different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it and the context.
Apparently I could have been asking for a raft, a temple or simply been stuck The oral form of the language may be difficult, but the written form is practically impenetrable without years of study. Even the native Chinese argue about the meanings of characters and struggle to read the ancient texts. What further hampered understanding was the way in which Acupuncture had been taught.
Traditionally the knowledge was passed down through lineages: it was more of an oral than a written tradition. Practitioners often jealously guarded their secrets, fearing that that they would be stolen and their own practice would become obsolete. In the s Mao put an end to this. He forced the leading acupuncturists and herbalists to come together to form a corpus of medicine, what was to become known as Traditional Chinese Medicine. For this reason it is, ironically, not as traditional as it appears. Mao was both Communist and dogmatic, and this philosophy permeated through the whole of s China.
Chinese medicine was no different: spirit had no place in a world where people were seen as worker bees in a hive, and it was almost entirely purged from Chinese medicine. The great teachings of Chinese medicine placed spirit at the centre of our existence; Maos Traditional Chinese Medicine saw spirit as decadence of the bourgeoisie.
The other great travesty that Traditional Chinese Medicine committed against the tradition of Chinese medicine was placing herbalism and Acupuncture within the same frame. The result of this was that Acupuncture became relegated to a subdivision of herbalism rather than a healing tradition in its own right. Concepts that worked in herbalism were transferred, such as warming the body or cooling the body, that had little prior use in Acupuncture.
Diagnosis was with tongue and pulses, but ignored the channels completely. All these factors combined to create a situation in which the essence of Acupuncture had been both assimilated and destroyed in the same process. Maybe because of this, or maybe in spite of it, little knowledge was transferred to the Western scientists and doctors.
It is not surprising then that despite determined investigation no evidence of Acupuncture channels was found. Western science gave its pronouncement on the issue: there were no channels; the primitive Chinese were deluded. If only the scientists had immersed themselves in a little of Chinese philosophy they may have stumbled across one of the pearls of the classic Taoist scriptures: A cup is only useful because of its emptiness. It is the space between cells, between organs and between fascia, where the Acupuncture channels lie.
You cannot see them because they appear closed but they are still there. A channel, by definition, has the ability to be empty. In the body the Acupuncture channels appear empty because what they transmit is so powerful that you only need tiny amounts, whether that is growth factors morphogens or even electricity. The blank that anatomical research had drawn in trying to identify the channels was precisely because they were looking for something, when what was to be found was next-to-nothing.
It was the space within the body that allowed movement and growth. Drawing this blank on the channels, research moved swiftly on to what was there, and before long it was found that Acupuncture releases natural endorphins. Endorphins are the bodys natural painkillers. That high feeling you get from extreme exercise is caused by endorphins; it also causes the vomiting. Opium, morphine, diamorphine heroin and the like all work on the same receptors as endorphins, and they are fantastically good drugs. Effectively, almost all of Western medicines best painkillers work on endorphin receptors.
Western science had triumphed, the mystery was solved and everyone was advised that there was no magic to Acupuncture it was just performing like a morphine injection, albeit a very curious one. There were a few problems with this explanation. The main problem with the endorphin theory of Acupuncture is that it only predicted one effect, that of pain relief.
The book shows how the theories of western and Chinese medicine support each other, and how the integrated theory enlarges our understanding of how bodies work on every level.
The Spark in the Machine: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine
Full of good stories and surprising details, Dan Keown's book is essential reading for anyone who has ever wanted to know how the body really works. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Death Lust. Cottage Summer. Colours of the countryside : Magnificent traditional country life. The 3 A. Travel Writing : An Anthology. Mountain Biking Denver and Boulder. The Nordic Cookbook.