Chinese Medicine - by Isobel Cosgrove

After 35 years in Chinese Medicine, I find I am moving nearer to understanding its essence. Let’s see if I can find the words to describe what I have got hold of recently. 

When I was 11 years old I had viral pneumonia. It was in the very early days on antibiotics, and I survived the crisis because they helped me get through the acute infection and temperatures of 104/105. Western medicine can be lifesaving in a crisis. It also prolongs life by intervening to treat high blood pressure, blocked arteries and other heart diseases, and by removing life-threatening tumors, for example. 

In China, Japan, Taiwan and other areas in the Far East acupuncture, herbs, tui na massage, dietary therapy, Chi Gong and Tai Chi exercises- all part of Chinese Medicine – are used often alongside Western Medicine, as a health maintenance system. 

These 2 systems of medicines have different goals: 

Chinese medicine intervenes to enable a patient’s organs and physiology/structures and systems to return to their optimal level of functioning possible. The treatments minimally intervene and restore better circulation of blood and fluids, improved digestion, respiration, elimination and urination. The intention is for the patient to be able, themselves to better regulate their own hormonal, reproductive, lymphatic and immune systems. 

Chinese medicine gives back the power and the ability to patients- to manage their own health maintenance - with the diet, exercise and minimal treatment input which they finds works best for them. The choice is theirs. They can monitor their own symptoms- the body’s way of telling us how we are doing, and in this way can make decisions about work/rest balance, and the kind of support they may need to stay healthy. 

If I had lived in the Far East in the 1950’s I would have been taken to a Chinese Doctor at the age of 7. By diagnosing areas of constitutional vulnerability I would have been given herbs and acupuncture to support my lungs each Autumn and Winter. My parents would have been given dietary guidelines and some exercises to help my respiratory system. 

The intention through my childhood would be to improve my lung and circulatory function- to prevent bronchitis, pleurisy and pneumonia which I had in Winter until I was in my teens. (We also moved away from industrial smog on Tyneside.) 

These days I would be on asthma pumps which can be lifesaving, however do not enable us to strengthen our own lungs. Instead, the pumps do the work of widening the bronchioli, taking down inflammation with steroids and controlling lung function. So they do a lot of the work for us, as so many other drugs do (eg etenalol to lower blood pressure, warfarin to thin blood, omazoprole to reduce stomach acid, statins to lower cholesterol ). This can be excellent in a crisis. 

Long term use of these drugs means that our own ability to fulfil some of our body’s primary functions are put on hold. The longer they are on hold the more difficult it is to get then back to full functionality (e.g. difficulty establishing regular menstrual function after years on the contraceptive pill). 

Using acupuncture, herbs and dietary therapy, Chinese medicine enables the patient to re-establish good menstrual, respiratory, digestive and other regulatory functions. The longer established the illness, the longer it can take to re-establish regulation- so it’s important to ask your practitioner about their prognosis for your treatment program. 

As we get older, and especially after menopause, it is useful to have a maintenance program to support the body’s regulatory functioning. This tends to get somewhat creaky, and needs regular help- every 6/8 weeks or so, depending on your constitutional picture. Acupuncture and/ or herbs can provide this help to maintain a higher quality of health. 

Isobel Cosgrove


"I have had acupuncture for more than 2 years. I see the treatment as a key part of taking responsibility for my own health and well-being. Working with Isobel is a two-way process. In many ways it is a journey of discovery in which we find patterns that help me, and ones that do not. The benefits include deeper sleep, a balanced nervous system and hormonal cycle. Above all, Isobel offers a calm, reflective style of support, with a highly skillful needle technique."