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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.

Navel Piercing & multiple sclerosisIn 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. Conception VesselDepending 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.