Acupuncture & Herbs for AutoImmune Skin Inflammation: Lichen Planus and Lichen Sclerosis
Updated: Aug 14, 2021
Over 23.5 million Americans suffer from over 80 different autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune conditions all have one thing in common: inflammation. Inflammation is caused by an over-reaction by the immune system. The immune system has dual function of being able to both up-regulate or down-regulate inflammation. In those with autoimmune conditions a ‘flare’ of symptoms is caused by an over-reactive immune system causing chronic inflammation. Autoimmune inflammation can cause many different types of symptoms depending on where in the body inflammation is occurring. In autoimmune skin conditions, the inflammation occurs in the skin and can also affect the surrounding nerves causing redness, swelling, itching, nerve pain (parathesia) and erosion/destruction of the skin.
Western/allopathic medicine standard treatment of autoimmune rashes are steroids, both topical and oral. While steroids can help reduce symptoms and must be used to manage acute symptoms - steroids only treat the symptoms and do not cure the underlying autoimmune imbalance. Allopathic medicine considers autoimmune diseases to be incurable and chronic.
There are many types of autoimmune skin conditions including: vitiligo, psoriasis, vasculitis, scleroderma, lupus, and eczema. In this article I will focus in Lichen Planus (LP) and Lichen Sclerosis (LS).
Both of these conditions are considered very challenging to treat successfully within the allopathic medical paradigm. The primary difference between LS and LP is that LP can occur within mucus membranes whereas LS rarely does. Both LP and LS can occur on anywhere on the skin, including on the genitals. LS can create smooth white patches on the skin which are thinner than normal skin: it also can cause redness, itching which can be severe, discomfort/pain, skin that tears and bleeds easily, bleeding, blistering and ulcerated sores. Lichen planus appears on the skin as purplish, flat bumps that develop over several weeks that can be itchy. LP can also form lacy white patches or be erosive with painful sores/blisters, easy tearing on mouth or vulva. LS and LP can lead to painful sex. With LP on the scalp or nails it can cause hair loss and nail damage/loss. Both of these conditions have a 3-4% chance of developing into cancer because of the damage caused to the skin with a chronic autoimmune inflammatory attack. Beyond subsiding the unpleasant symptoms of these conditions, treatment of flares is essential to help prevent cancer. Allowing these conditions to go untreated can have devastating consequences. And yet, sometimes steroids and other pharmaceuticals do not work or cause a rebound flare because steroids merely suppress the immune system. And because allopathic medicine treatments only address symptoms most will cycle through flares and remission over and over.
Autoimmune conditions benefit immensely from a more holistic approach that aims at addressing the underlying triggers and causes of autoimmune disease: inflammation. Stress is a well known autoimmune trigger because when the body-mind is under stress, this triggers the inflammatory process. Modern life is characterized as chronically stressful which keeps many of us locked into the stress mode of the nervous system, also known as the sympathetic nervous system or fight-flight-freeze. In a healthy person without chronic stress, their nervous system is able to easily switch from fight-flight-freeze nervous system back in to the parasympathetic, or the relax-rest-digest nervous system. In a healthy nervous system, once the stressful situation is over, their nervous system can easily switch into being relaxed, at ease and calm. In someone who is chronically stressed, this ability switch nervous system tracks does not function fluidly. This is one reason why many with autoimmune conditions also have digestive issues, because we digest optimally when the body-mind is in a relaxed state. The body causes inflammation in a stressed state because in a healthy person some inflammation is initially a localized protective response to tissue damage: stress tells the immune system something is wrong. And to the immune system, it doesn’t matter if the stress is mental or physical.
A more holistic body-mind approach is occurring in one specialized branch of medicine called Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) sometimes also sometimes referred to Psychoneuroendoimmunology (PNEI) in recognition that the endocrine system often mediated between the nervous system and immunity. This holistic approach recognizes that we have a multi-directional interaction within the body-mind: that our psychological state and our physiological state have a bi-directional influence on one another. Our immune system can alter our mood and neurological symptoms and our mood can alter our immune and neurological systems (and endocrine and digestive systems). This is a highly specialized field of medicine, mostly being studied at universities and discovering new clinical applications for pharmaceuticals. For example, amitryptaline, a serotonin reuptake inhibitor used to treat anxiety can also be used for nerve pain. PNI research affirms that pharmaceutics that lower inflammation can also help reduce anxiety. Low dose Naltrexone, which is an opioid inhibitor is being used reduce inflammation because immune cells have opioid receptors. However, pharmaceutical can cause unpleasant side effects.
Eastern Medicine (EM), sometimes also called Oriental Medicine, Chinese Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). EM has been a great example of applied PNI: Body-Mind Medicine. Acupuncture is one aspect of Eastern Medicine. EM theory holds that when we get stuck in one emotional state, this state can cause disharmony in the Body-Mind that leads to disease. And then specific emotions tend to weaken specific things in the body. The lungs rule the skin and sadness and grief are the emotions most damaging to lungs, large intestine and skin. Grief includes many different kinds of emotions from shock, grief, denial, guilt, bargaining, aggression, anxiety. Unresolved grief leads to PTSD and complex PTSD. Sadness can manifest as depression or melancholy or being overly sentimental (stuck in the past).
In EM the lungs are supported by the Stomach and Spleen/Pancreas. The emotion that causes disharmony in these organs is worry, rumination, overthinking, anxiety. This is one reason why inflammatory autoimmune skin conditions will benefit from elimination of pro-inflammatory foods and drinks:
sugar, alcohol, high fructose corn syrup. artificial trans-fats, most oils* (high in Omega 6**), refined carbohydrates, processed meats, grain feed beef*** (high in Omega 6) processed foods. Coffee energetics in EM is ‘hot’ meaning it can create ‘heat’ like conditions such as rashes, redness, itching and irritation. Green tea is considered cooling as makes a nice replacement to coffee to help lower inflammation. Those with LS may benefit from a low oxalate diet.****
* Oils you should use instead: olive oil, flax oil, avocado oil, coconut oil
** Omega 6 = pro-inflammatory
*** Grass feed beef is high in Omega 3 = anti-inflammatory
****Low oxalate diet: oxalates may cause irritation to LS symptoms. Try eliminating almonds and spinach and other high oxalates. When you reintroduce them limit your overall intake of oxalates daily and over a period of days to avoid triggering reactions. We eliminate oxalates via urine and BM and therefore there may be connection to LS and localized inflammation in the region.
The Lungs and Heart and Small Intestine have bi-directional relationship EM theory. The emotion that brings disharmony to the Heart is stress and all extreme emotions, especially ‘Joy’ which is more aptly described in modern terms as over-stimulation or as excessive joy such as mania and/or addiction. Deep breathing can calm the over-stimulated mind. The wisdom of the Heart in balance can navigate through resolution of grief. The Heart and Small Intestines prepare the Stomach and Spleen/Pancreas to receive and digest food and drink.
During chronic stress: fight-flight-freeze mode digestion is slowed down or speeded up and rarely in optimal function and pace. Cultivating a serene Shen (Heart, Spirit-Mind) improves the digestive function. Practicing meditation, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, Qi Gong, guided imagery, Yoga Nidra or any other mind calming practices before eating optimally enhances the digestive process.
Acupuncture can help the mind-body release and resolve stuck emotions via the meridians. Specific points on the body can help resolve specific emotions. From a biomedical perspective ElectroAcupuncture (EA) at Stomach 36 has been found decrease inflammation by stimulate the hypothalamus, where neuroendocrine immune modulation occurs. EA has also been found to decrease inflammation via stimulation of the vagus nerve. Acupuncture also has a well documented ability to release our own natural opioids which can naturally prompt immune cells to decrease the inflammatory response. EA is therefore considered a potent way to regulate the immune system to regulate the PNI pathways to decrease the inflammation in autoimmune conditions. EA is considered an ‘electroceutical’ or bioelectronic medicine treatment. EA has also been found to predictably release stem cells and stem cells have the ability to quell chronic autoimmune inflammation by modulating immune responses.
Understanding the immune system via EM perspective: protective Qi also called Wei Qi is said to circulate between the skin and the muscles during the day and then diving deep into the body at night to circulate among the internal organs. In AutoImmune conditions the Wei Qi does not behave predictably. Wei Qi is imperfectly translated as Immune Qi (because it does much more than protect the body). Thus in EM a Wei Qi imbalance at the skin level causes local inflammatory dysfunction. Acupuncture and Herbs help correct this imbalance.
Because Acupuncture is not voodoo - its a physiological response that takes time to build a course of treatment is 10-20-30 treatments depending on how long you have had autoimmune symptoms and other underlying health complications. Treatments must frequently spaced 2-3 times per week for maximal efficacy as each treatment builds on the previous one (or daily for intensive treatment). Acupuncture’s physiological timeline of impact: immediate upon insertion of needles, 25-30 minutes later, 2 hour later, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours after treatment. Toward the end of 10-20-30 day treatment the body reaches a state of balance where it will ‘hold’ in a state of balance and be able to easily swing back into balance. That is when your Acupuncture treatments should become about maintenance for the prevention of future flares.
Here at Yin Rising Acupuncture the first stage of healing is to reduce symptoms, specifically inflammation and the second stage of healing is to promote vitality through encouraging stem cells via a specific EA protocol shown to predictably work within 2 hours of treatment. Note that you must follow nutritional advice on specific foods and nutrients before receiving the acupuncture stem cell treatment. You must first reduce inflammation via Acupuncture and herbs before receiving acupuncture Stem Cell treatment to avoid side effects.
All skin conditions can also benefit greatly from the tradition on herbal medicine in EM, both topical and internal herbal combinations can help heal the skin and body. Specific herbs in the EM tradition have the ability to stop itching, are natural analgesic (pain relieving), calm redness/inflammation, reduce swelling, heal ulcers/lesions. Some of these herbs are immune-stimulants, which helps with skin conditions due to virus, bacteria, fungus and low immune system: these herbs can make LP and LS worse by activation of more pro-inflammatory response. Whereas some herbs herbs are immunosuppressive, which are more helpful for autoimmune related skin conditions such as Lichen Planus and Lichen Sclerosis. EM herbal formulas and combination should be modified for each autoimmune patient to address unique constitutional aspect of imbalance, for example one patient may be more Qi deficient (fatigue, poor digestion, brain fog, dull pain, white patches) whereas another might be Yin Deficient (dryness, redness, menopausal). Other underlying co-factors must must be identified and addressed: blood deficiency (Iron, B vitamins, Vit D, zinc deficiency), blood stagnation, heat/inflammation, moods swings/agitation.
Herbs such as She Chuang Zi (Fructus Cnidium) can be used as a topical wash, powder or ointment: it stops itching and helps heal lesions, especially in the genital region. This herbs is often combined with Bai Bu (analgesic) and Ku Shen (anti-inflammatory). Another herb often used in skin care is Da Huang, Rhubarb) which anti-inflammatory, anti ulcer and anti-neoplastic (prevents cancer). Herbs are very helpful in healing autoimmune skins conditions and should be taken internally and also applied topically via herbal ointments and herbal sitz bath. Blending EM herbs and essential oils for your specific symptoms and underlying conditions takes the skill of a licensed Acupuncture practitioner who is holds a Masters or PhD degree in Eastern Medicine.
Cupping is also very helpful with LS and LP because it increases local circulation while down regulating inflammation.
Here at Yin Rising Acupuncture (Tempe/N Phoenix, AZ) we specialize in helping patients with autoimmune conditions such as Lichen Planus and Lichen Sclerosis with Acupuncture, Cupping Herbs and Nutritional/Lifestyle Coaching.
Make an appointment with Master Holistic Healer Anna Lunaria, L.Ac. CMT CYT CHT.
Local patients: we have two locations in Tempe and North Phoenix.
Expect a treatment plan that includes frequent acupuncture (2-3 times per week for 10 course treatment.) and herbs (internal/topical) as well as nutritional approaches to healing.
Do you live far away?
We do offer Tele-Medicine for Herbal consults: internal & topical.
We offer intensive treatment for patients traveling from distances to seek help!
* 5 day Intensive: Receive Acupuncture treatment 2 treatments per day for 5 days.
plus herbal medicine and nutrition.
* 10 day Intensive: Stay a second week (with weekend off treatment in between) for Stem Cell Acupuncture treatment plus herbal medicine and nutrition.
Stay at local hotels and resorts or AirBnB.
Contact: email@example.com for more information and get scheduled. Natural healing relief is coming your way! We look forward with working with you! (480) 206-6199