TCM and Ophthalmology: An Acupuncturist’s Approach to Healing your Eyes


According to the Vision Council of America, 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction.  Cloudy, blurred and diminished eyesight is one of the most common complaints of aging.

Where eyes are concerned, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) primarily focuses on two main channels, the Foot Jue Yin & Foot Shao Yin, or the channels that correlate with the liver and the kidneys.  These two channels greatly affect each other, and are often treated together.

Poor circulation (or Qi Deficiency) can prevent blood and other fluids from nourishing and lubricating tissue properly.  One of the Liver Channel’s jobs is to control circulation. As we age, our body might even produce less fluids leaving us feeling dry in some areas.  In TCM, we call this Yin Deficiency.  The Kidney Channel is in charge of maintaining Yin.  (Healthy kidneys filter and then reabsorb water.)

The Liver Channel opens to the eyes, or more specifically, to the sclera (the white area that surrounds the pupil).  If there’s one channel that is adversely affected by stress more than any other, it is this one. Stress affecting the Liver Channel even has its own name.  We call it “Liver Qi Stagnation.” This is why strain, fatigue and overwork often result in red, itchy, and easily irritated eyes.

The Kidney Channel is directly related to our genetics and vitality (Prenatal Qi and Jing).  Some people are born with a genetic disposition that makes them more susceptible to certain diseases.  As we age and our vitality begins to diminish, many of these genetic abnormalities begin to show.  One thing we can all do when we’re young is to think prophylactically and maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Preserving our vitality can help stave off problems as we age.

The pupil (or the black center of the eye) is associated with the Kidney Channel.  This channel resides in the deepest part of us, and therefore can be associated with the inner workings of the eye.  Dryness, weakness, and aging are what affects this channel most.  Generally, these are disorders that built up slowly over time, are chronic and don’t usually have an easy fix.

For these eye issues, I generally take a multi-pronged approach.  I use acupuncture to bring down inflammation and increase circulation to the eye.  I recommend dietary changes and provide herbal medicine to strengthen the kidney channel.  I also recommend seeing an Ophthalmologist, as advances in Western Medicine are being made every day.

Anatomy of the Eye
Eye Anatomy 2 (labeled)
(Image reproduced with permission from Dave Carlson – Carlson Stock Art)
Diagram demonstrating the front and back eye anatomy

Other channels to consider for the eyes are the Foot Tai Yin and Yang Ming (or the *Spleen* and Stomach Channels).  These channels aren’t directly associated with the eye, but are classically linked to healthy muscle tissue and movement.  Also, the Stomach Channel travels up the face in close proximity to the eyes.  Because of this, these points are often used to treat problems with or surrounding the eyes and eyesight.

And of course, as we treat the Spleen and Stomach Channels, we cannot ignore diet and nutrition.  Some dietary changes we can make to benefit our eyes are:

  • Increase foods with Vitamins A, C & E.  (For Vitamin A, think yellow & orange: eggs, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and butter.  For Vitamin C, think fruit!  Dark red and purple fruits, like berries, have the added benefit of also being great antioxidants.  For Vitamin E, think nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds.)
  • Eat more foods with Lutein And Zeaxanthin  (translated into English, this means eat more dark green, orange and yellow colorslike leafy greens, carrots, yellow bell peppers).
  • One word, beta-carotene, or is that two words?  Does this seem like a lot?  It shouldn’t, because if you start making a list of foods, you’ll see that many fit multiple categories (like dark leafy greens, and yellow & orange colored veggies).  This is because the human body turns beta-carotene into retinol which is a precursor to Vitamin A.  See, it’s easier than you think!
  • Fish can be tricky, as our oceans are polluted with excess mercury, but Omega 3s are essential for good eyesight.  (A guideline to follow for safe fish consumption can be found here.)
  • Zinc, and essential trace element, is not only good for eyesight, but the immune system in general and can treat things like ADHD and infertility.  (However, if you’re not going to get your zinc from oysters or beef, eat yogurt.  Do not get it from anything that’s “fortified,” especially breakfast cereal.)

I always suggest eating whole, unprocessed foods as a way of obtaining vitamins and minerals.  After all, we’re designed to absorb them by this method.  If, for whatever reason, eating these foods is problematic, then taking these nutrients in supplement form is a good plan B.

Of course, I’ve only listed the basics here.  There are also points in Korean Hand Acupuncture and other Microsystems that can treat the eyes, but that gets a lot more complicated.

© 2018 Nisan Cerami


*Please Note*  The Foot Tai Yin Channel was translated to English as The Spleen Channel about 100 years ago.  However, this is slightly inaccurate.  The Channel actually represents much more than the spleen, but also includes the duodenum (or the first part of the small intestine where a good deal of absorption occurs), the pancreas and even a part of the stomach.  That’s why I prefer to call it the Digestive Channel.

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