Saturday, May 28, 2005

MS and Belly Buttons: To Pierce or Not To Pierce?

I like to read up on articles about MS, and found a rather unusual one yesterday. This is the first time I've ever seen an article devoted entirely to multiple sclerosis & navel rings. It's also the first time I've ever seen acupuncture techniques used to support an anti-piercing stance. My comments will follow (you didn't expect me to keep quiet, did you?).


Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.

In response to my writing on various alternative medicine topics, I sometimes receive unusual, but intriguing, questions. For example, a woman asked me
“Will a navel pierce aggravate multiple sclerosis (MS)?” The more I mulled over and researched this seemingly arcane question, I realized it was especially apropos under the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concepts that form the basis for acupuncture.

In risk-assessment calculations, overall risk is determined by multiplying individual risk by the number of people facing this risk. Hence, even if the risk associated with wearing a navel pierce is low for any specific person, it could cumulatively represent a significant overall health risk given the millions of young women who have had such rings inserted in their navels for an extended period of time over the past decade. If such a risk is real, one then speculates how many of these women 20 years hence may be more predisposed to diseases of chronic origin, such as MS, because they have kept a ring inserted in their navel for many years of their youth.

Acupuncture: To understand this issue, we must briefly review the TCM philosophy behind acupuncture. This ancient healing tradition believes that
a life-force energy called qi (pronounce chee) permeates all living things through channels called meridians. Good health requires an ample and flowing supply of qi. When qi is consistently diminished, out of balance, or polluted, sickness ensues; its absence means death.

Acupuncture points, small skin areas that are considered energy vortexes, periodically punctuate meridians. For those skeptical of this 5,000-year old healing tradition, modern scientists have, indeed, shown that these acupuncture points correspond to skin areas of greatly reduced electrical resistance. To promote healthy energy balance, the qi that flows through these meridians
can be regulated through needle insertion or other mechanisms.

Because conventional medicine emphasizes overt symptoms as opposed to
long-term causes of diseases and lacks TCM’s core belief that chronic energy imbalances are the basis for disease, we are unlikely to get answers for questions of this nature from traditional MS healthcare professionals.

Conception Vessel Meridian: A navel ring is inserted near a key acupuncture point located on the body’s all-important Conception Vessel (CV) meridian. As shown in the attached illustration, this acupuncture point, specifically CV8, is centered in the middle of the umbilicus or belly button. It is forbidden to needle this point under TCM theory. Depending upon the specific insertion, a naval ring could be the equivalent of having an acupuncture needle permanently inserted in this forbidden point. Such a situation could cause a chronic energy imbalance, and, in turn, under TCM theory, a predisposition to disease, such as MS.

Although this article establishes no link between MS and navel piercing, the information gathered suggests that this cosmetic practice may, indeed, have a downside.

What the Experts Say: First, according to Margaret Naeser, Ph.D., Lic.Ac. (licensed acupuncturist) and research professor of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine, and VA Boston Healthcare System, the CV8 acupuncture point warms and stabilizes the body's yang energy (O'Connor & Bensky, 1983). Qi energy is divided into interacting yin and yang aspects, yang reflecting heat and what is active, and relatively more on the surface. Although it is forbidden to needle the CV8 acupuncture point, she was uncertain to what degree a piercing at the belly-button perimeter may affect the CV8 acupuncture point, located at the belly button center. However, even if the piercing avoids direct penetration of this point, it still may affect energy flow through the conception vessel meridian, especially if the piercing is in the midline of the navel on the superior
or inferior edge of the umbilicus.

This acupuncture point in the navel is never treated with an acupuncture needle
in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is only treated with warming moxibustion (an acupunctural variation in which points are stimulated by warmth instead of needles) or massage. According to Naeser, it would not be recommended to use body piercing of any kind, in or around the CV8 acupuncture point.

Second, through clinical observations, Dr. Patricia Combier, a TCM expert from Saint Laurent du var, France, has concluded that a navel piercing could potentially lead to major health-aggravating energy disturbances. Although most likely having minimal effects on a healthy person, she
believes that a navel piercing of an already emotionally, psychologically, or traumatically predisposed person could adversely influence energy imbalances, resulting in future sickness.

According to Combier, even if the vulnerable CV8 point isn’t exactly needled,
the overall surrounding area is considered a major energetic doorway to the body. If this energetic pipeline is breached, it is an invitation to major problems or the emergence of previously silent problems because the body will not be able to energetically compensate.

Finally, Villti Ulfur (Boulder, Colorado), an expert on alternative healing traditions, also believes that there can be a health-aggravating energy diminution associated with a navel pierce. According to him, a healthy body usually can develop a new energy meridian around the piercing site, and, as such, for most women, navel piercing will probably be innocuous. However, if the woman is already predisposed to MS, it can be the trigger that moves that person
more quickly into a disease state.

Conclusion: For many teenage women basking in youth’s vitality, it may be hard to factor in today’s decision-making a vague, undocumented, future health risk, especially compared to the immediate psychosocial benefits of wearing a navel pierce. Because navel piercing is a relatively new phenomenon, it is, of course, impossible at this stage to demonstrate any link to any disorder, whose expression is of a long-term, chronic nature, such as MS. Nevertheless, Traditional Chinese Medicine theory suggests that this cosmetic procedure promotes energetic imbalances, which, in turn, could conceivably compromise future health long after one has stopped wearing such jewelry. Although only the individual woman can decide if the self-image and -esteem benefits of wearing a navel pierce out-weigh the yet undetermined potential for future adverse health consequences, this potential should clearly be factored in her decision-making.

Reference: O'Connor J & Bensky D: Acupuncture, A Comprehensive Text. Translated from the Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Chicago IL: Eastland Press. 1981. p. 182.

I have a couple of problems with this, but before I rant I'd like to make a disclaimer: if you believe in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, great. I'm a firm believer in letting others believe as they will. However, this is my blog and I'll bitch if I want to (and frequently do).

First, no one knows what causes MS. Among the leading theories include environmental factors and exposure to certain illnesses in childhood. In fact, some studies seem to indicate that most people "get" MS in childhood but don't develop symptoms for years. But what it all boils down to is: nobody knows. We know there are certain "risk factors": women are more likely to get it, it most often shows up in your 20's and the further North of the Equator you live, the more likely you are to get it (which seems to support the environmental theory). No one is sure.

Until I read this article, however, I've never heard it suggested that getting your navel pierced would cause or exacerbate MS, and I've got to say that unless I see a cold, hard, quanitified study or two...I don't believe it.

I myself have never had my navel pierced, nor am I interested, to be honest. I haven't been, since I saw a young friend of mine, years ago, have a migrated and infected navel ring forceably removed from her stomach. Yikes, is all I can say. I do have my ears pierced repeatedly, and my nose pierced. In my youth, I also had my septum and lips pierced as well. In addition, I have several tattoos...all but one of which I got after I developed symptoms of MS.

Which brings me to my next point: although I don't believe getting a piercing would cause MS or make the disease worse per se, I can see it bringing on a relapse in some (but not all) patients. If you're not feeling well already, or are sensitive to pain, or have site those cases, I can see either a piercing or a tattoo aggrivating symptoms. And if it gets infected? That I can definately see causing problems, particularly if you're one of those MSers (like myself) who relapse with every cold or infection.

Does this mean I think people with MS shouldn't get body modifications? Nope. I'm not going to stop getting ink done, that's for sure. Do I think it COULD cause problems? Possibly.

So what could a person with MS do to minimize risk? My advice: carefully research your artist or piercer (good advice for anyone wanting bod mods). Only go to a reputable and hygenic studio; this will help cut down on the risk of infection and unnecessary pain (if you've ever been pierced by an inexperienced piercer, you know exactly what I mean). If you're sensitive to pain or get severe site reactions, you might want to steer clear of bod mods in general. And don't get any work done if you're in a relapse or feeling one coming on. I would even go so far as to advise MSers who are very heat-reactive to avoid getting bod mods when the temperature has been high...why rock the boat? And naturally, if you've had a bad reaction to bod mods in the past, it's probably not a good idea to tempt fate.

In the end, of course, there is risk involved: no one knows exactly how they are going to respond to a piercing or tattoo until they get it. This includes people who have already gotten work done before, as there can be a significant difference in pain and sensitivity from area to area on your body (my stomach tat, for instance, actually tickled, while my upper-leg tat hurt when the needle came near my kneecap). If you want to err on the side of caution, go with a smaller tattoo or minor piercing (ears, for instance) and see how your body reacts. Also, be aware that some medications might make you more suseptible to infection, or might make your blood thin (which tends to affect the quality of tattoos, and is why you should never get one drunk). And of course, think long and hard about getting a bod mod...and if it's worth it to you, despite the risks, go for it!

I'm interested in hearing comments from others in the MS/blogging community about this article and/or my comments. Do you have bod mods? Did you notice any change in your symptoms afterwards? Do you utilize acupuncture, and does it help at all? Anything you'd like to add? Fire away!

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At 8:14 PM, Blogger Angel said...

I agree with you--without some good studies, I don't buy this article either, and I think your comments are right on with cautions and recommendations.

Personally, I have had acupuncture and I'm a firm believer in it (had severe tendonitis in one hand). Not as a cure-all for everything, but as an option, especially if other conventional remedies have been tried. I'm considering it for my headaches once I have more tests. IMO, it works on nerves and stimulating the body's ability to help heal itself, (but I'm not trying to convince anyone or change anyone's belief either).

At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was once told by a Qi Gong master (and I know he was for real because he proved it to me by giving me some very amazing healing and other things) that tattoos and body piercings affect the energy system of the person, in a negative way. This makes sense to me seeing that I believe in acupuncture/acupressure/reflexology/Qi Gong/healing.

I am thinking of getting a small (tiny) tattoo but this is keeping me from doing it or making up my mind. I have had my ears pierced but haven't worn earrings for years. Nor do I wear rings on my fingers, or metal/gold/silver necklaces or bracelets. It just feels weird. Perhaps it's an energetic thing I'm sensing as I'm a healer and supersensitive.

Just my two cents. I love tattoos and piercings on others, just not on me.

At 4:40 AM, Anonymous Leah said...

I am very sick & am being tested for MS. I am walking with a cane. One Dr. that turned out to be a fake told me to take out my belly button ring cuz it was messing with my over all health. Now this new Dr. is testing me for MS. I have alot of piercings & tattoos. I even have dermal piercings. Now I am the survivor of extreme abuse & I have seizures due to this I believe this is the reason for my illness. NOT PIERCINGS. I read up on MS it has a lot to do with scar tissue on your nerve endings. SEIZURES would cause that not peircings. Accupuncture is beneficial for your overall health, but peircings & tattoos are up to a individual & to me they are art. LEAH.

At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been having M.S symptoms since last June. I am in the last phase of testing so I will know for sure in the next few months. I am 28 married with 2 children, My son who is 3 has SMA Type 3. My Sex drive over the last year has all but depleted it doesn't help that I am on a birth control that also lowers your sex drive. My husband and I talked about genital piercings. I have read up and there is a 50 50 chance of orgasm all the time or never again. Since I don't have them at all now. we cant see how it would hurt. Wanted to get more information or hear from others who may have a piercing and MS.

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