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More Than Meets the Eye

By Sara Calabro

The Fourth of July tuckers out the senses. All weekend, we smell wafting barbecues and taste the food they cook; we touch ocean waves and hear them crash ashore. But the epitome of Fourth of July rituals, watching fireworks, calls most heavily on our sense of sight. Weak eyesight or degenerative vision loss can put a big damper on this stimulating summer weekend.

In acupuncture theory, each sense has a corresponding organ. The organ associated with sight is Liver, so a Liver imbalance often is suspected in people who seek acupuncture for poor vision. However, although the Liver is at least partially implicated in the majority of eye-related cases, it doesn’t always tell the whole story.

The Liver is said to open to the eyes, meaning that the condition of the Liver is reflected in the health of the eyes. More specifically, it’s often the state of a person’s Liver Blood that determines her ability to see. Abundant and free-flowing Liver Blood moistens the eyes and prevents dry eyes, blurry vision, floaters and eye pain. In addition to Deficient Liver Blood, another Liver pattern, Liver Fire, can produce symptoms such as itchy, burning or bloodshot eyes; another, Liver Wind, can lead to involuntary eyeball movement.

Cases in which rectifying the relevant Liver imbalance does not improve vision can still be helped by acupuncture. Classical acupuncture texts state that the Essence—the truest, most vital part—of all organs flows upward to the eyes. This means that while the Liver has the most direct relationship to the eyes, any organ throughout the body, if imbalanced, actually can affect vision.

A common next-look after the Liver is to the Heart. Giovanni Maciocia, in his book The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, says, “Although the eyes rely on the nourishment from Liver-Blood, blood flows to the eyes through blood vessels, which are under the control of the Heart.”

In addition, the Heart in acupuncture theory is home to the mind, the closest metaphor for which is the brain in biomedicine. For this reason, the Heart plays a role in any issues related to sensory perception, including poor vision.

The relationship between the mind and the eyes works both ways: Imbalances in the Heart/mind can affect the eyes just as eye problems can affect the Heart/mind. “As the Heart influences the eyes, excessive use of the eyes may damage the Heart and therefore the Mind [sic],” says Maciocia, adding, “this explains the damaging effect of excessive TV watching on the eyes and Mind [sic].”

Kidney is another organ system often involved in vision problems, particularly ones that are chronic and degenerative in nature. The Kidneys are considered the root of life, so it is the organ most affected by age-related diseases, such as macular degeneration. The Kidneys also are the mother organ of Liver, meaning that the health of the Liver—and therefore the eyes—is heavily dependent on the state of the Kidneys.

Once the appropriate underlying imbalance has been identified, acupuncturists may incorporate within their constitutional treatment strategies points specifically for poor vision.

For instance, Kiiko Matsumoto, in Kiiko Matsumoto’s Clinical Strategies Vol. 2, says that acupuncture points along the Large Intestine channel are often used in Japan to treat the eyes. In addition to Large Intestine points, Matsumoto uses empirical points for vision located on the fingers and toes as well as some around the eye, and on the inner thigh, head and neck.

Matsumoto stresses, however, that for optimal results, underlying constitutional imbalances always should be addressed before these specific eye points are used. She says, “Many internal diseases may create symptoms at the eyes and many eye problems can be treated through constitutional and organ treatments.”

Acupuncture offers a broad perspective on eye health that identifies where the problem is coming from. By focusing on underlying imbalances rather than isolated structural dysfunction, acupuncture can reverse the decline of eyesight and decrease chances of recurrence.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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Ka Hang Leoungk
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This is a really nice introduction for people who are not too familiar with what acupuncture and TCM can do besides the usual pain relief. Many aren’t aware that acupuncture can benefit the eyes.

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