Japanese Moxibustion ("Sketches of Japanese Manners and Customs", 1867)
Moxibustion (Chinese: 灸; pinyin: jiǔ) is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy using moxa made from dried mugwort. It plays an important role in the traditional medical systems of China (including Tibet), Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia. Suppliers usually age the mugwort and grind it up to a fluff; practitioners burn the fluff or process it further into a cigar-shaped stick. They can use it indirectly, with acupuncture needles, or burn it on the patient's skin.
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The word moxibustion comes from Japanese mogusa (艾, mugwort) (the u is not very strongly enunciated) blended with the Latin word combustio (burning), hence literally "burning of mugwort." Yomogi (蓬) is the name of the herb in Japan. Chinese uses the same character as mogusa, but pronounced differently: ài, also called àiróng (艾絨, literally "velvet of ai").
The Chinese characters for moxibustion 灸術, are read jiǔshù in Chinese and kyūjutsu in Japanese.
Theory and practice
Practitioners use moxa to warm regions and acupuncture points with the intention of stimulating circulation through the points and inducing a smoother flow of blood and qi. It is believed by some,[by whom?] that mugwort acts as an emmenagogue, meaning that it stimulates blood-flow in the pelvic area and uterus. It is claimed that moxibustion militates against cold and dampness in the body, and can serve to turn breech babies.
Practitioners claim moxibustion to be especially effective in the treatment of chronic problems, "deficient conditions" (weakness), and gerontology. Bian Que (fl. circa 500 BCE), one of the most famous semi-legendary doctors of Chinese antiquity and the first specialist in moxibustion, discussed the benefits of moxa over acupuncture in his classic work. He asserted that moxa could add new energy to the body and could treat both excess and deficient conditions. On the other hand, he advised against the use of acupuncture in an already deficient (weak) patient, on the grounds that needle manipulation would leak too much energy.
Practitioners may use acupuncture needles made of various materials in combination with moxa, depending on the direction of qi flow they wish to stimulate.
There are several methods of moxibustion. Three of them are direct scarring, direct non-scarring, and indirect moxibustion. Direct scarring moxibustion places a small cone of mugwort on the skin at an acupuncture point and burns it until the skin blisters, which then scars after it heals. Direct non-scarring moxibustion removes the burning mugwort before the skin burns enough to scar, unless the burning mugwort is left on the skin too long. Indirect moxibustion holds a cigar made of mugwort near the acupuncture point to heat the skin, or holds it on an acupuncture needle inserted in the skin to heat the needle.
Use in Western medicine
An overview of systematic reviews published in 2010 found that there are several conditions for which moxibustion may be effective, but the reviews were based on research of low quality rendering the results inconclusive. In addition, many of the positive trials were conducted in China, so concern has been expressed that publication bias may result in a falsely positive impression.
In traditional Chinese medicine there is a belief that moxibustion of mugwort is effective at increasing the cephalic positioning of fetuses who were in a breech position before the intervention. A 2012 Cochrane review stated that there is "some evidence" that moxibustion may be useful for reducing the need for external cephalic version, but well-designed randomised controlled trials were needed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of moxibustion.
Parallel uses of mugwort
In many religions of North and South America that pre-date European colonization, mugwort is regarded as a sacred plant of divination and spiritual healing, as well as a panacea. Mugwort amongst other herbs was often bound into smudge sticks. The Chumash people from southern California have a similar ritual. Europeans placed sprigs of mugwort under pillows to provoke dreams; and the herb had associations with the practice of magic in Anglo-Saxon times.
- Portuguese missionaries in 16th-century Japan called it "botão de fogo" (fire button). Hermann Buschoff, a Dutch minister in Batavia, who wrote the first book about this remedy in 1674 used the spelling "moxa" that is close to the actual pronunciation of "mogusa".
- Needham, J; Lu GD (2002). Celestial lancets: a history and rationale of acupuncture and moxa. Routledge. pp. 262. ISBN 0-7007-1458-8.
- American Journal of Chinese Medicine, Winter, 2001, Yoichi Kanakura, et al.; also see Cochrane Library
- "Moxibustion, Acupuncture Today". Acupuncturetoday.com. Retrieved 2011-05-17.
- Lee, M. S.; Kang, J. W.; Ernst, E. (2010). "Does moxibustion work? An overview of systematic reviews". BMC Research Notes 3: 284. doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-284. PMC 2987875. PMID 21054851.
- Coyle ME, Smith CA, Peat B (2012). "Cephalic version by moxibustion for breech presentation". Cochrane Database Syst Rev 5: CD003928. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003928.pub3. PMID 22592693.
- Lee et. al.; Kim, JI; Lee, MS; Choi, TY; Choi, SM; Ernst, E (2010). "Moxibustion for ulcerative colitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis". BMC gastroenterology 10: 36. doi:10.1186/1471-230X-10-36. PMC 2864201. PMID 20374658.
- Lee, M. S.; Shin, B. -C.; Kim, J. -I.; Han, C. -H.; Ernst, E. (2010). "Moxibustion for Stroke Rehabilitation: Systematic Review". Stroke 41 (4): 817–820. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.109.566851. PMID 20150551.
- Timbrook, Janice (2007). Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California. ISBN 978-1-59714-048-5.
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- W Michel: Far Eastern Medicine in Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Century Germany
- Hermann Buschoff, The gout, more narrowly searcht, and found out; together with the certain cure thereof. London 1676. W Michel, ed. Fukuoka, March 2003. (This is the first Western text on moxibustion, introducing the word "Moxa". Japanese introduction by the editor, English text; pdf)