Moxibustion Adjunctive Therapy for Cancer:
Using Moxibustion to Increase White Blood Cell Count in Cancer Patients
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Moxibustion is one of the key treatment methods employed. Yet it is
one of the lesser known methods in the West. And now, this amazing healing method is seeing growth
in the Western world.
“Moxa” refers to the herb species Artemesia argyi (or Artemesia princeps), commonly known as
mugwort. This special species of mugwort is processed, ground, fluffed, filtered, and aged, creating a
very light, soft, and refined wool. This product is then burn atop the acupuncture needle, or close to the
patient’s skin, and it is this act that is called “moxibustion”. The resulting heat, smoke, and radiation
that emanates from the burning moxa imbues certain healing properties. In most recent times, the use of
moxibustion is being used for some patients where all else seems to fail, and with some amazing
results. Even Chinese hospitals have started using moxa to boost a patient’s immune system before the
aggressive treatment of cancer.
Traditional books attribute the healing properties of moxa to be able to warm and support the Yang Qi
of the body. This further elaborates to moxibustion opening and coursing the channels, moving Qi and
quickening the Blood, dispelling Cold and Dampness, dispersing swelling, scattering nodulations,
securing Yang, and stemming counterflow Qi. This long list of effects would seem a treasure trove of
healing, especially for those who have subscribed to the TCM model. However, for those who are still
doubtful of the theory behind TCM and moxibustion, more substantial evidence is needed.
Luckily, there have been many who have taken on the task to explore the effects of moxibustion in
controlled environments, and analyzed using a Western perspective. These studies have been done
starting as early as the turn of the twentieth century, and continue to be studied to this day. Many of
these studies have come out of Japan, where moxibustion has garnered considerable interests. China,
as well, has produced many studies over he years. And, more recently, various universities and
hospitals in the Western world, such as the USA and Britain, have begun their own research into the
mechanism of healing which moxibustion stimulates. Of particular note is moxa’s ability to enhance
immune function and increase the white blood cell count in cancer, and other immunodeficient
The earliest studies have shown that moderate and heavy application of direct moxibustion was able to
increase the absolute number of white blood cells (leukocytes) in the blood stream. However, for
treatment of cancer, the Natural Killer cells (NK cell), which are the cells that destroy faulty cells in the
body such as tumor cells, are of greater concern. Moxibustion have been shown to increase these cells
as well. Furthermore, moxibustion stimulate the release and activity of Heat Shock Proteins that are
fundamental for intracellular repair, prevent protein aggregation, and assist in denatured proteins to
refold. This means that moxibustion is able to, not only increase NK cell count, but also increase their
life and effectiveness within the body, and repair them when damaged.
Other studies have also shown that moxibustion for cancer patients is not limited to only stimulating
anticancer immunity. In addition, there is a myeloprotective effect, it can improve the psychoemotional
status and quality of life, and it can minimize the effects of chemotherapy. Conventional therapies can
damage the body’s innate functions, but moxa is able to prevent this action. The pain induced from the
cancer, or the conventional treatment used, can be highly stressful to the patient, and very damaging to
the emotional and mental health, as well as the body. Treating this using moxa has been shown to reduce
pain, and protect cells that have been damaged, thus improving quality of life.
Further studies indicate, as well, that emotional states have an affect on the NK cell activity. With the
decreased pain and increase quality of life induce by moxa treatment, the NK cells will increase their
activity. This treatment also has a direct effect in releasing beta-endorphins, which further increase NK
cell function, and also the function of cytokines and interferon (proteins that activate leukocytes). All
in, moxibustion seems able to act as a suitable adjunctive therapy with conventional cancer treatments.
While note a direct parallel, moxibustion has been used for many years in the treatment of
Tuberculosis. These TB patients are severely immunodeficient and the use of moxibustion for their
treatment have shown remarkable positive effects. The initial treatments were studied in Japan. And
now, these treatment methods have been incorporated into TB treatments in Africa by various health
groups. Evidence for the benefits of moxibustion for promoting immune function seems to be
However, what of the side-effects of moxa? There are certain concerns with the heat and the smoke.
Well, studies have been done on this too. The biggest initial concern is heat exposure on the skin
causing permanent scarring and damage. Thankfully, the previous studies have shown that blistering
moxa is not necessary for the noted benefits. Only moderate to below burning temperature and
exposure is needed for prolong effects. Light moxa able to produce effects as well, though not as long
The second health concern is the smoke. Many try to compare it to tobacco smoke. However, testing
has indicated that the smoke from moxa have no negative side-effect on the lungs. There are less
pollutants in the smoke, such that their likelihood for build-up on the lung membrane is low. Another
study also indicates that, in contrast to other smoked substances, moxa smoke has no negative effects
on the Heart, in respects to it rate and rate variability.
Thus, moxa is a safe and effect means to boost overall well-being. Not only does it directly increase
leukocyte count and function, and especially the Natural Killer cells, but it does so indirectly as well.
There is a reduction of pain and a protective action on the body, which further aid in the overall health
of the patient. With these in mind, it seems to be an ideal adjunctive therapy to conventional treatment
methods of cancer. And even for those without, moxibustion can certainly be a welcome treatment and
therapy for overall health and maintenance.
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