Although ably managed by Western medicine, cystic fibrosis (CF) is an issue with symptoms several individuals complain of because of the resiliency of these symptoms against traditional regimens such as respiratory medications, physiotherapy, and antibiotics. One alternative form of modality is acupuncture that can offer alleviation for many of these symptoms.

CF almost always affects the abdomen and the lungs, resulting in abundance of mucus or phlegm in these organs causing then to malfunction. Phlegm can be produced by the lungs, which retards the expansion of the lungs restricting the conveyance of oxygen into the bloodstream. The digestive system and abdomen have difficulty digesting nutrients from food and this causes the fall of the person’s health, particularly his weight and levels of energy as well as weaken the immune system making the body prone to infection and bugs.

TCM or traditional Chinese medicine interprets the effects of CF this way:

  1. Kidney Qi Deficiency: Inside a person’s body is a vital energy known as Qi or chi and without this energy the body dies. Qi has two sources.
  • Yuan Qi – this type of Qi comes with us the day we are born and it can get used up during our lifetime. Yuan Qi is stored in the kidney.
  • Postnatal Qi – We constantly produce this Qi everyday. It is produced from air and imbibed by the lungs. Postnatal Qi can also come from the food we eat that is imbibed by the abdomen.

These two kinds of qi are the reasons we function and live. Now when CF develops in the body the body experiences problems imbibing postnatal Qi. This forces the body to use up Yuan Qi resulting in kidney Qi deficiency since yuan Qi is stored in the kidney. Since the kidney also governs fluid regulation in the body, a kidney deficiency will mean not enough fluid circulating in the body and this can lead to too much heat accumulating in the body.

  1. Lung Deficiency: TCM practitioners believe that the lung produces wei qi circulating throughout the body acting in the same way as the immune system protecting the body from external pathogens. These pathogens can include factors such as heat and cold invasion and not just infections and bugs. When lung has energy deficiency, these pathogens can infiltrate the body causing phlegm production to increase; cold pathogen may produce phlegm that is white while heat pathogen causes the phlegm to turn yellow.
  1. Yin and Yang: the body needs to have a proper balance of yin and yang for it to become healthy. Yin is passive and sleep, night, dark and cold are associated with it; yang, on the other hand, is active and symbolizes awake, day, bright and hot. When kidney and lung experiences deficiency the, deficiency in yin is always the case. This causes an imbalance in yin and yang. If yang is in preponderance, you might suffer from yellow phlegm, feeling hot or lack of sleep and the like.

Patients with CF can manifest the following symptoms based on the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine:

  1. Kidney deficiency – this leads to lower energy levels, fatigue and a hot sensation because of fluid deficiency. Most CF patients have this basic problem.
  1. Lung deficiency – though not occurring often as much as kidney deficiency, lung deficiency is caused by external heat pathogen as well as bug invasion and phlegm.
  1. Yin deficiency – sensation of heat internally. The patient experiences difficulty cooling down and has a problem sleeping. The tongue is observed to have patchy spots on its body.

Acupuncture Treatment for Cystic Fibrosis

A CF patient being treated with acupuncture may need to undergo treatment for all the three aforementioned deficiencies. Acupuncture treatment would often start by treating the patient’s basic problem, and the lungs, if required. This can help boost the energy levels of the patient and also decrease phlegm. The acupuncturist can also boost the patient’s yin to enable the patient to sleep much better and stay cool. If bugs or too much heat exist in the body, then the patient needs to stay cool. Lastly, acupuncture can be used to alleviate parts of the body that experiences soreness and local tightness particularly in the neck, shoulders and chest.

After some sessions of treatment, some patients may see their energy levels increase, their lung capacity improve and the phlegm dispelled. Sleeping patterns can get better with acupuncture and the ability to cool as well as a good overall feeling of health can be experienced again by the patient.

It is not likely that acupuncture can cure CF at all or resolve the fundamental reason why CF arises; however, it can provide the patient with significant symptomatic relief. Some patients with CF may also be having other health issues. This and their own unique constitution should also be considered by the acupuncturist in order to come up with a plan of treatment required for their patient’s own specific needs.

Christina Prieto is an Orlando acupuncturist, a certified Yoga instructor and the founder of Harmony Wellness Center in Central Florida.