Cathy's Case: Chronic Acne
The Myth of "Hormonal Imbalance"
By western medicine definition, Acne is considered a hormonal related condition. Therefore the standard treatment is always intake of hormonal substances such as birth control pills, IUD or other means to manipulate the hormones.
Cathy is another typical case of how I treat “hormonal” related problems without using any hormonal related herbs. Simply because most of the time what people talk about is just the result not the cause. How can the problems be solved by manipulating the surface results from the deeper reasons?
Everybody knows treating the cause rather than the symptom. How to find the cause and how to treat it is another story.
June 2017, Cathy, a 32 years old teacher visited me.
She has been suffering from chronic acne for over 10 years. She has been seeing a naturopathic doctor for a number of years. She has been trying literally everything on the market. She even went to school to study nutrition in order to improve her health yet she was still frustrated by the little to no progress over years of trying. It has not only affected her appearance but also her psychological health.
We did thorough history intake and assessment. One distinctive aspect about her health stood out: her period was always very short and the volume of bleeding was light. Herbal treatment in Chinese medicine for acne is usually composed of few different units, addressing the inflammation, blood circulation, digestion etc. In Cathy’s case, the character of her period indicate there is another factor that may contribute to her chronic acne is the deficiency of blood volume, with possible blockage of blood flow.
After the assessment, two weeks of herbal formula was prescribed based on the findings and my hypothesis. I told her, if my hypothesis was right, it would take some time to reach sufficient blood volume in order to improve her condition.
On her next visit, Cathy said her period was heavier than usual and the acne was improved 40-50%. which made her pretty happy considering the history of it. even though there was still quite a bit before the period. I told her, the treatment was treating the underlying problems so it will take some time. And the improvement indicated the treatment was in the right direction.
“ Kampo Medicine believes Blood Stagnation is a common pathological factor that underlies many inflammatory and immune dysfunctional disease. It is often missed or ignored by western medicine, by which will lead to limited success in treating disease. ”
A Dynamic and Refinable Process
Sep, 2017. Cathy came back from her vacation. I did another thorough assessment. Her mood was much better, her sleep was good, bowel movement and urination were normal. Her baseline health is good. Last period lasted two days with light, dark red blood. there were some cramps prior to bleeding. The remaining stubborn acne was hard and purple red in color. Her tongue is a little purplish. I also did abdominal palpation. There was tenderness in the lower abdomen when I applied pressure.
All of above signs and symptoms were pointing to a problem: blood stagnation. In western language, the blood coagulation level was higher than normal. So the focus of treatment shifted accordingly by adding a formula specifically to remove the blood stagnation. A couple of single herbs were also added in to soften the hardness of the acne.
After this visit, Cathy came to refill the herbs every 2-3 weeks. I kept monitoring her conditions. Everything went well so I didn’t change the formulas. The last visit of 2017, just before Christmas,, I adjusted the blood unit in the formulas to a lesser degree because some of the blood herbs can have some adverse effect on the digestive system over time.
Jan 28. 2018 After 7 months of treatment. The acne that bothered Cathy for over a decade is almost clear completely. Cathy couldn’t be happier about the result. According to the principle of Chinese Medicine, as the primary complaints are eliminated, the treatment should switch the focus on maintenance of the baseline health to consolidate the result. In Cathy’s case, some of the blood herbs were replaced by the herbs that support the endocrine system.
Health vs Disease, the fundamental philosophy between east and west
Another interesting thing during the treatment is, Cathy didn’t catch any cold or sickness since the school season started. Which was unusual to her because as a teacher in elementary school. She got sick every year due to the surrounding “germ bombs”. And I didn’t compose her formulas for her immunity intentionally. What happened to Cathy is little difficult to understand from Western perspective, but it.reveals one of the most advantageous features of Chinese Medicine.
Chinese Medicine is inherently health-centered medicine. It believes the diseases only occur in the absence of health. The restoration of health is the foremost goal of any treatment regardless. The idea of sacrificing health (aka “side effects”) in order to cure a disease on paper or merely managing the symptoms doesn’t exist in Chinese Medicine. For Cathy, treating all of her underlying health problems lead to a better health thus a better immunity, better hormone balance and happier life. .