In the ’70S, a young premed student at the University of the Philippines was seriously contemplating the study of alternative medicine when he witnessed, by accident, a local albularyo (herb doctor) at work.
The albularyo was treating a little girl for a dog bite. As he did so, recalled the now venerable doctor, he casually popped herbs into his mouth, chewed them well, spat them out, and applied them to the bite wound.
Mortified and disgusted, the young premed student ended his romance with alternative medicine in an instant, and he went on to study medicine at the University of the East.
After graduation, he stumbled on alternative medicine again when he decided to do community work in the province. Still genuinely interested, he read up on the subject once more, this time with renewed faith. He had seen how the herbs healed people’s illnesses.
“Being a medical doctor and a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is like sleeping in a room with two beds. You have to make a choice where you sleep. You may choose to wear different hats as you see fit, but you cannot wear them together,” said Dr. Eddie M. Concepcion, MD and acupuncturist.
Take, for instance, the spleen. For Western medicine, the spleen is nothing but a place where all red blood cells die, Concepcion said. Remove it and you’ll still live a perfectly normal life.
For TCM, however, the spleen is the central organ for digestion. Anything you eat gets “cooked” in your stomach. And, like any cooking, this process produces a fine mist called nutrient qi. The spleen, said Concepcion, first absorbs the mist before it goes to the lungs. The lungs then distribute the qi to the entire body.
That’s how it works—if you eat the right food, that is. Feed yourself dairy products, and instead of fine mist you’ll be producing mucus. That means, too, that your grandmother had a point when she puts you on a no-dairy diet when you’re down with a cough and cold.
“Unlike Western medicine, in TCM we don’t look at the root causes; we look at the pattern and correct it. In Western medicine, if you don’t know the root cause, you’re not a good doctor; in TCM you’re a good doctor if you know the pattern,” Concepcion said.
Concepcion studied TCM at Fujian University in China in the ’80s. Always eager to learn more, he has attended several lectures and workshops since. His sincere concern and genuine desire to help has earned him many loyal patients. One lady patient, who requested anonymity, has been seeing him since her child was only 8 years old. That child is now a 6-footer college graduate.
Bibeth Orteza, Gilda Cordero Fernando, and Jessica Soho are among the personalities who seek treatment and guidance from Concepcion in his Oasis Acupuncture Clinic at 97 Maginhawa St., Teachers’ Village, Diliman, Quezon City (tel. no. 921-7649 or 434-8498).
Acupuncture uses needles to stimulate the flow of energy in the body, establish harmony and balance in the Yin and Yang, and restore health.
With words of a poet, Concepcion explained how a liver yang rising happens when people are afflicted with, say, migraine. The liver, he said, is like a tree—it wants to move and grow freely. Anything that stops it will cause problems, or what Concepcion calls the liver qi stagnation. If it generates a lot of heat, the liver yang will rise, so you get migraines.
“We are like gardeners,” he said. Some plants need sunlight, some don’t; some need to be cool, others need to be warm. You need to rearrange them where they should be. By redirecting the qi flow, the human body will restore the balance of yin and yang.
There are so many possibilities for chronic liver qi stagnation. It could be caused by poor diet, lifestyle, stress from a womanizing husband or unfaithful wife, he said.
Dysmenorrhea, an example of liver qi stagnation, is often triggered by suppressed emotions. It is very common among Filipinos, he said, probably because our culture does not encourage us to be frank or confrontational. We do not express our emotions that way, he said.
This is also the reason sour food, such as green mangoes, aggravates dysmenorrhea cramps. Sour food is congealing, said Concepcion.
Endorphins and enkephalins, the body’s natural substance that kill pain, are elevated during acupuncture, he said. That is why migraines, for example, disappear. But that does not explain why migraines disappear for a year, he said.
“You cannot prove TCM based on the Western method of double-blind control studies. Ours is based on anecdotes and case studies,” he said.
A point in the foot area, for instance, when warmed with herbs for 15 minutes, corrects the fetal position for pregnant women who do not want a C-section. Concepcion said this method works even for women who are in their last trimester. Many medical doctors go to him for this treatment.
(Acupuncture is safe for pregnant or menstruating women. Just inform the doctor ahead so those specific points will be left untouched.)
Western medicine is still a young science, Concepcion said. TCM has been around for thousands of years, when Confucianism did not allow the human body to be opened up because of ancestor worship. Acupuncture points therefore are based on a map crafted more than 3,000 years ago, when the Chinese healers were not allowed to open and study the inside of the body.
“It’s a closed science. You cannot improve on it anymore,” he said.
TCM relies on a tongue diagnosis. A doctor will take a photo of your tongue, and check the color and configuration for any body ailment. The tongue is like a map of the body, where you can see the heart, lungs, liver, gall bladder, digestive system, and kidneys. Concepcion said this is a very reliable guide.
Make no mistake, though—acupuncture and TCM, continued Concepcion, is not a cure. And it has its limits. Western medicines will perform surgery to save your life or repair a fractured bone, for instance, and TCM can help make the process of recovering easier for you.
A Stage 4 pancreatic cancer patient of Concepcion who has refused chemotherapy is seeing him for pain management. The patient, also an MD, cannot sustain food. She has not been able to eat without vomiting an hour later.
Concepcion controlled the liver qi stagnation and the dampness. After four treatments, the cancer patient has been regaining strength, and can now eat without feeling nauseous.
“Who knows where this will lead? Maybe after a full treatment she’ll regain enough strength that will make her strong enough to sustain the effects of chemotherapy,” he said.