Maximum Oxygen Uptake AND ST 36

Yoshito Mukaino, M.D., Sports Science Laboratory, Fukuoka University, Japan
Translation: Shinjiro Kanazawa, L.Ac., MTOM

Health maintenance, “preventing illness before it shows its symptom” is the core idea in acupuncture and moxibustion theory. Clearly, ancient people had a concept of that stage of illness that comes before illness shows its symptom, and they believed it best to treat illnesses at this stage. This stage is called, in Chinese, “Mi Bing,” and in Japanese “Mi Byo,” which means “before illness.”

“Mi Bing” is closely related to the idea of longevity and moxibustion on the acupuncture point St 36 (stomach 36: Zu San Li in Chinese, Ashi-no-san-ri in Japanese). A Japanese folk tale from the Edo era (1603-1867) about Farmer Manpei tells that when Manpei was asked whether he had any secret to maintaining long life, he answered that he had no secret other than burning moxa on St 36 every day, just as his ancestors had done. It is recorded that Manpei lived 243 years; his wife, Taku, lived 242 and their son, Mankichi, lived 196 years. In recent records, it is well known that Doctor Shimetaro Hara (deceased) used to burn moxa on his St 36 every day and he lived to be over 100 years of age.

A story about St 36 which is very familiar to the Japanese is the first sentence of Haiku Master Basho Matsuo’s diary (1689) “Okuno Hosomichi (Narrow Passages In The Back Country).” He writes, “I have sewn a torn part of my undergarments. I have changed the strings of my hat. I have burnt moxa on my St 36. My mind is now totally occupied with the moon over the Matsushima islands…” He was ready for a long walk of 1,500 miles after burning moxa on St 36. This means that our ancestors knew very well that moxibustion on St 36 has the effect of speeding recovery from fatigue.

We studied the effect of stimulation on St 36 in our laboratory by creating a fixed quantity of lower leg fatigue and observing recovery by measuring the successive changes in carbon dioxide partial pressure through the skin. As a result, we found that stimulation on St 36 speeded recovery from fatigue. We presume that the factor of speeding up recovery might be the improvement of the minute circulation of the blood.

Here, I would like to introduce one of my cases that showed an extreme improvement in minute circulation. This was a case of intermittent claudication. The male patient was given an angiogram, which revealed right occluded arteriosclerosis. I could not detect the digital plethysmogram of the right lower leg. The balloon catheter was not attempted to expand his clogged vessel. Prostaglandin and other medications which have strong vasodilation effects were ineffective. In this case, he had intermittent claudication every 50 m (150 ft) when walking. I stimulated his St 36 by injecting physiologic saline subcutaneously every week and he extended his walking distance little by little until finally he could walk without any pain. I did the angiogram again and found the vessel still clogged. This means that even when the large vessel of the lower leg was clogged, needed oxygen for walking was sufficiently supplied. Successive stimulation treatments on St 36 enhanced the development of minute circulation of blood in the lower leg.

Minute circulation of blood is one of the normal factors of Maximum Oxygen Uptake. There is a possibility that stimulating St 36 increases Maximum Oxygen Uptake.It is known that increased Maximum Oxygen Uptake prevents and improves recovery time from diseases caused by lifestyle, such as hypertension and diabetes. Maximumu Oxygen Uptake also decreases the cancer rate. Thus, we could assume that the modern idea of maintaining health by increasing Maximumu Oxygen Uptake is based on the same mechanism as our traditional wisdom for attaining longevity by stimulating St 36.

We could also assume that moxibustion on St 36 has an effect on maintenance and improvement of health in the modern sense, but this has already been proven by the monk Kenko Yoshida, around 1330, who says “If people over 40 years of age do not practice moxibustion on their bodies by burning St 36, they will get flushing (uprising Qi). They should get moxibustion without fail.” He pointed out that moxibustion on St 36 is necessary for the maintenance and improvement of health for the person over 40 years of age.

Increasing Maximumu Oxygen Uptake through exercise therapy is a policy of the Japanese government, and it is a modern way of “preventing disease before it shows its symptom.” It is essential to remember that the intensity, amount and duration of exercise has to be adequate. In the premodern era, people had to walk, having few or no other means of transportation. In those days life itself provided the amount of exercise that modern exercise therapy suggests people should have. So then, where did our ancestors get the idea that burning moxa on St 36 would “prevent disease before it shows its symptom”?

We find the answer in the idea of meridians, which is the basis of the theory of acupuncture and moxibustion. According to this idea, St 36 is located on the network called the Stomach Meridian, and stimulation on St 36 not only stimulates the point but also the entire meridian and stomach organ. According to this classic medical theory, the organ and meridian of the stomach are a part of the foundation of our life energy. Thus, stimulation on St 36 not only affects the leg where St 36 is located, but also affects the health of the whole body.