Catching up to our past: Finding new organs in old places
There’s been a lot of talk in various news forums lately regarding the discovery of a new organ: the interstitium. Recent articles call the interstitium a “fluid-filled highway” which they now believe transports fluids throughout our bodies, and while it has not yet achieved the status in the Western medical community of a full-fledged organ, this space within our bodies is being predicted as holding significant implications for cancer research as well as many other conditions. Researchers state that their prior inability to detect this space lies in the fact that when tissue is placed under a microscope the channel disappears as there is no longer fluid in it to keep it “inflated,” very much like a balloon deflates after losing its air.
In the Chinese medical text Basic Questions, Chapter 8, this organ is identified as the Triple Burner and is assigned the role of directing the water passages, similar to the inferences drawn by modern scientists. The Basic Questions, however, is derived from another text, the Huangdi Neijing, which is said to be the first Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) text and it was written sometime during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 ACE). So the next question might be to ask how these scholar/physicians were able to identify this structure before the advent of the high-tech imaging devices we use today.
In its earliest days, many TCM practitioners watched the natural world and the various ecosystems around them to develop an understanding of the ecosystem within them. One very astute observation was that of the water cycle. It is believed that by observing the cycle of water as it travels from the sea, into the air, to the ground, into the various plants and animals it nourishes, and its subsequent return to the ocean, early TCM practitioners were able to understand how the structures within their own bodies were nourished. From this point they were able to apply this understanding to their treatment of patients’ varying illnesses.
After the recent celebration of Earth Day, this is an opportune time to reflect on how we treat the planet around us as well as the one within us. Pollution clogs up the flow of the ecosystems we see as essential to the growth of our planet and, in this light, we should also see how polluting our bodies serves to inhibit the healthy flow of our own fluids and nourishment within us.