Remaining Pathogenic Factor (RPF):
The Burglar in Your Home

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Burghlar at the door
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So ... What is it? (Well! I suggest you get yourself a cup of tea and settle down to read this page in full. It's longer than most other pages on this site and I could split in into shorter pages, but I might lose you at a vital moment, so please persevere!)

In around 1980 a famous Chinese doctor, Dr John HF Shen, gave a series of lectures in London which I attended. One lecture was on the causes of disease including this, the remaining pathogenic factor.

To give an idea of what he meant, he suggested we think of a burglar, entering our house at night.

If we hear him entering and decide we don’t want to lose our possessions, we have two choices.

Either we can make plenty of noise, and by shouting and screaming we can drive him out, or we can shoot him dead.

Either way is effective: in neither case will he trouble us again.

Shooting him does have a certain finality about it, however! What shall we do with the body? Shall we keep it, festering in the basement, attracting vermin and disease into our house?

If we tell the police, there will be questions: how shall we prove he was a burglar, for a start?

The better way is to make a huge fuss and scare him away in the first place! That’s the way a healthy body deals with a disease:

Fever, feel awful, shivering, thirst, sweating, sneezing, runny nose, headache, sore throat and all the rest of the symptoms that we know and dislike!

That’s the way the body is designed to do it. It exteriorises the symptoms and stops them from penetrating deeper.

But suppose our body fails to dislodge the invader?

As with the burglar, our problems are just beginning. With the burglar living with us, there will now begin a series of disagreements and arguments.  Add the expense of supporting him or living with his body and life will become a drain.

In terms of Chinese Medicine, this will lead to generation of Heat and Damp, and exhaustion of our Yin reserves. His presence (ie the remaining pathogenic factor’s presence) will interfere with the movement of energy of the Spleen and Stomach leading to Damp.

Heat will dry the body fluids and create potential for Phlegm.

Damp, Heat and Phlegm

These 'syndromes', as they are called in Chinese medicine of Damp, Heat and Phlegm – emerge as conditions we experience after an acute infection or disease hasn't achieved success: inflammation, rashes, mild fevers, heaviness, tiredness and discharges.

'Hasn't achieved success'? - we hear you wonder ...

Well, the point of an acute disease and its symptoms is to chase out and destroy the invader. If our body doesn't achieve, say, the fever required to do this, all that effort has gone for nothing, and we're still stuck with the invader. So, although tired by its efforts, the body keeps trying, hence the mild fever, or feeling of heat, as the body keeps doing what it's designed to do - one million years of trial and error which has given us the genes to deal with this.

Actually there's an additional problem nowadays, which takes us into very politically incorrect territory. By preventing acute disease and the death and damage it can do to us - via immunization and antibiotics, for example -  we may have stopped our genes from adapting in such a way that only the healthy genes make it down future generations.There's more on this mechanism below.

Hence there is a danger, unless we can find a better way, that we are making our bodies susceptible to more chronic disease: which is exactly what keeping the RPF, the burghlar or his body, in the house, represents. (And of course we do have a huge increase in chronic diseases like asthma, allergies, skin diseases and so on, which are controlled with drugs.)

End of politically incorrect broadcast.

Worse, they drain our resources causing Yin deficiency, with poor sleep patterns with bad dreams or frequent waking, sore throat, more tiredness and depression.

This weakens our body, prevents our Lung qi from regulating our defensive energy, and makes us more susceptible to yet more invasions or infections.

This burglar, this remaining pathogenic factor, has a lot to answer for!

Of course this happens when our body lacks the ability to ‘fight’ in the first place; perhaps because of a series of illnesses beforehand from which it has never properly recuperated.

Or instead of eliciting an effective fever/feel-hot reaction and then sweating at the right time (a wind-heat reaction), the invader produces only a mild or almost negligible fever without feeling hot or sweating (a wind-cold reaction).

The difference between a strong wind-heat and a weaker wind-cold reaction is explained if you click here.

Modern medicine has given us many ways to prevent our bodies from exteriorising the disease. These include anti-inflammatory painkillers that reduce our fever, lengthening the time it takes to kill the invader, and antibiotics.

The Energy of Herbs and Foods

The ‘energetic’ effect of any Western, orthodox medicine, herb or food can be studied in Chinese medicine by comparing it with the effect of herbs known to Chinese herbalists.

Herbs used in Chinese medicine are described in terms of their effects in the body: whether for example they are said to be hot, cold, bitter, sweet, neutral, acrid, warm, aromatic etc. For example, a herb with cold quality would be very cooling, even though it were taken cooked and warm.

In particular, Chinese herbs are classified in 18 different categories such as those that release the exterior; clear heat; drain downwards; drain dampness; transform phlegm and so on. Herbs are also categorized into which channel (acupuncture meridian) they appear to influence most.

They are studied for how they affect the balance of the body between yin and yang, hot and cold, dry and moist, inside and outside symptoms. (This is a bit technical, I'm afraid (!) but you should be able to understand 'hot and cold' if you've ever had an infection.)

Chinese Medicine has at least 2000 years of experience in observing the energetic effects of foods and herbs on humans.

The Energy of Antibiotics

The effect of antibiotics has been carefully studied. Usually, they are regarded as having energy that is cold and bitter.

Western medicine would probably agree that antibiotics are cold because Western medicine categorises them as anti-inflammatory.

For more on antibiotics click here.

A Big Difference between Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine

However, that’s where the two systems of medicine part company, because in Chinese medicine, herbs used to treat invasion by heat or wind-heat would be herbs that released the exterior, definitely NOT herbs that cooled!

Antibiotics, on the other hand, are cold in nature and, just as you shiver and hunch up tight in a chilly wind, they CLOSE the exterior, which is the very opposite of ‘releasing the exterior’.

Closing the exterior leads to what is called the 'remaining pathogenic factor' - the burglar's body, festering under the floorboards.

Antibiotics? Effect on Spleen and Stomach?

Antibiotics have other functions. They drain fire and toxins downwards (which is why they work for skin eruptions with pus) and clear heat from the organs.

Antibiotics also encourage defecation, drain phlegm, especially from the lungs, and have a calming action. If you have an infection, you might think all this was excellent news.

The trouble is that being so powerful, if not combined with any herbs or foods that moderate their action, antibiotics drain heat from the body and greatly weaken the Stomach qi and Spleen qi. Stomach and Spleen qi are central energies in the body, whose function is to turn food and drink into Qi and Blood.

When the Stomach/Spleen function is weakened, Stomach energy rebels upwards leading to nausea or loss of appetite, and the Spleen Yang function of separating and transforming is depleted, giving poor digestion, bloating, tiredness, diarrhoea and accumulation of dampness, which is experienced as heaviness, weariness and often swelling or oedema.

Of course, do realise that doctors are becoming increasingly aware that the bugs are winning. Soon, probably, antibiotics won't work because the bacteria will have learned how to resist them. Research isn't yet being done fast enough to find new ones to replace old antibiotics, so we may find ourselves back in the situation we were in before World War 2 when surgery, for example, could lead to serious microbial infection. And of course, the bugs are older and wiser now.

Antibiotics ... Effect on the Lungs

The Lung function of regulating the body’s 'Wei' or Defensive energy is disturbed in several ways. One of its functions is to manage the way the body sweats; how it opens and closes its sweat pores.

The Lung meridian arises in the Stomach area (before entering the Large Intestine, the Lungs and the Heart).

When Stomach qi is weakened, the Lung function of opening and closing the pores is disturbed.

Because opening the pores at the appropriate time to allow sweating is a vital part of exteriorising a disease, (ie sending it to the exterior) closing the pores – which is what antibiotics do because of their cold nature – has a dramatic and destructive effect on the body’s attempt to exteriorise the invasion.

In effect, if you close the doors and windows, you can't push the burghlar out!

So ... antibiotics trap the invader inside the body. They clear heat and kill the bacteria – yes! – but the disease process remains, like the burglar’s body. There you have your 'remaining pathogenic factor'.

Antibiotics cool the body at a time when it needs heat to burn out and exteriorize the invader. They weaken digestion just when the body needs to increase its strength.A good digestion breaks down damp and phlegm: a weak digestion can't.

So damp and phlegm build up, making the body more susceptible to another attack. When it comes, because the remaining pathogenic factor is already using up energy, there isn't enough to produce a strong Wind-Heat reaction, so now you may acquire another remaining pathogenic factor!

Used for too long, antibiotics have other effects as explained above: they deplete the body’s reserves – its yin qi.

This leads to inflammation of internal organ tissue and a reddish or peeled tongue, poor sleep and wakefulness at night, often with sweating, which is exhausting.

You probably know people who have been on regular antibiotics for years: generally speaking they have lower levels of energy.

A vicious circle: one bug follows another

The disastrous effects of antibiotics are more obvious when used for a wind-cold invasion, because here there is little initial heat to clear, but they still close the exterior and drain heat – what little heat there is - and remember - your existing remaining pathogenic factor has been sapping your body's ability to produce heat all along.

In Wind-cold, the body only succeeds in exteriorising the invasion when it begins to feel hot and to sweat 'successfully'. Blocking that action by first cooling the body so that it can’t warm up and sweat, and then closing the exterior as well, ensures survival of your remaining pathogenic factor.

Of course, antibiotics are also used in chronic diseases. This also prevents the body from exteriorising its problem, further weakening the body’s energy.

So a remaining pathogenic factor arises when the body can’t exteriorise an invasion of eg wind-heat or wind-cold, or when a disease process is prevented from being exteriorised.

With that remaining pathogenic factor in the interior, the body has ongoing symptoms of mild infection and tiredness, such as sore throat, poor sleep, restlessness, tiredness, heaviness, stiffness and so on.

These often affect outlook, leading to mild depression.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Western, orthodox doctors are divided in their opinion on chronic fatigue syndrome, some attributing it entirely to mental factors, others to an unresolved infection.

In our opinion, treating a remaining pathogenic factor with more antibiotics will be un-conducive to long-term health for the patient, for reasons given above.

Anti-depressants may alleviate depression, but because they only treat one part of the remaining pathogenic factor's symptom picture they are also potentially suppressive in our opinion and will need to be repeated indefinitely and increased or changed from time to time.

Taking anti-depressants long-term may lead to other more serious conditions later because like any medicine they have to be metabolized: this imposes additional chemical and enzymatic burdens on the body.

Are antibiotics all bad?

Can anything be done to moderate their actions?

They're certainly not all bad! Though we’ve described their dire consequences above, they have saved millions of lives. 

Had Chinese medicine (herbs, for example) been used with them, their very cold and bitter effects might have been moderated by incorporating other herbs or treatments,

  • some to open the pores (to exteriorize the invasion), 
  • some to compensate for their cold quality, 
  • others to clear phlegm and 
  • support the Spleen and Stomach energies. (The actual herbs would depend on the patient’s constitution and individual response to the disease.)

That’s what they do in China – where they do know what they’re talking about.

And in fact that's apparently what Dr Shen (mentioned above) did - for himself - when, after treating hundreds of Chinese with TB using herbs soon after the Second World War, he was introduced to penicillin, having himself by then caught TB. He said that a condition which with just herbs would have taken many weeks to treat successfully, got him better inside 10 days, combining the antibiotic with Chinese medicine.

In the West, health providers tend to view the combination of antibiotics with herbs as cheating, because it makes it seem that the herbs are killing the infection when it’s not the herbs but the antibiotics that do it – in their opinion. It’s often illegal to combine them, too.

But there are plenty of Chinese herbs which act in a similar way to antibiotics, but aren’t so powerful. Chinese doctors were quick to spot the advantages of combining Western and Chinese medicine. Western medicine, so far, hasn’t accepted Chinese medicine. More fool us.

Alternatively or in addition, acupuncture and moxibustion could have been used to restrain the unwanted antibiotic actions.

What can you do to help yourself if you take antibiotics?

There are precautions you should take.

Unless there are pre-existing reasons not to, you should take probiotics both before, during and after taking antibiotics. 

As categorised in Chinese medicine these have a sweet, salty, warming effect and support the Spleen and Stomach function. (However, take probiotics in pill or powder form and with warm water, not in the form of yogurt, which has a cold energy.) 

However, don't swallow the probiotics at the same time as you take the antibiotic. Take them in between, as far in time away from the antibiotic as you can. So if you take antibiotics twice daily, say on rising and in the evening, take the probiotics about half way in between. Read the instructions but if you aren't sure, take them with warm water, after a meal.

What to Avoid
You should avoid cold, iced, raw and sweet foods before, during and after taking antibiotics. So during the days before, during and after the course of antibiotics, that means NO COLD, ICED, CHILLED, RAW or SWEET foods. (Emphasis is in case you overlooked the first sentence there!)

Take Ginger and Herbs
To support your Spleen and Stomach you should add ginger (cut from the root) to warm dishes and in hot drinks.

If you don’t like ginger or it’s not available, try teas made from one of the following, all of which like ginger cause sweating, help to scatter wind-cold and support either or both of the Spleen/Stomach and Lung energies:

  • peppermint
  • sassafras
  • osha root (osha grows in the mountains in Western America)
  • butterbur root and 
  • Virginia snakeroot. 

Use ginger root not dried ginger ie ginger powder, because dried ginger is too heating.

Of course, herbs affect people in different ways, so be careful how much you take. You might find peppermint tea is hugely beneficial and warming but I'm one of the few people who apparently find it rather cooling. We're all different. Nearly always, however, ginger root is beneficial for your Spleen and Stomach energies.

What to Eat
You should take only cooked, warm food and drinks.

How to Get Warm and induce Sweating from Heat
With an invasion of Wind-Cold, a very warm bath for ten minutes or so is another way of helping the body warm up and sweat.

Ideally stay in the bath until you start to feel too hot and are sweating: this is the point when your body can start to exteriorise the pathogen.

However, don’t stay in the bath too long: neither to the point when you get weakened and fall asleep nor, worse still, to when you cool down with the water.

Then dry off quickly, wrap up well, go to bed with a hot-water bottle or heated bean-bag (the hot body of a partner sometimes works too, but avoid sex when you’re ill!) and pile on enough bedclothes to keep you sweating in your sleep. Getting hot and sweating from the heat you generate is vital.

NB. The herbs mentioned above are normally used for Wind-cold conditions because they warm your body and cause sweating. If your body can be made to warm up and then sweat, it will kick-start the healthy process of clearing the invading pathogen.

When someone is taking antibiotics, assume that the antibiotics will have a cooling effect which they nearly always do. (But if, clearly, the antibiotics are heating, then other measures are called for. These would include, obviously, discussion with whoever prescribed the antibiotics to ensure that they are having the desired effect.)

The herbs listed above help to counter the cold effect of the antibiotics at the same time as causing sweating, enabling the body to exteriorise the pathogen.

Even if you have a wind-heat reaction, if you decide to take antibiotics, take the herbs mentioned above because they’ll counter the cold-inducing and exterior-closing properties of the antibiotics.

However, if you can stand a couple of days of discomfort from the Wind-Heat invasion, please don’t take antibiotics! Let your body do the work! That's what it's designed for, and your natural Wind-Heat reaction shows your body is up for it!

Summarising your Remaining Pathogenic Factor

  • Yes! Antibiotics have life-saving qualities ... BUT...
  • Using them or other medications to suppress your body’s natural way of dealing with external pathogenic factors (for example what Chinese medicine calls Wind-Cold or Wind-Heat) may trap the pathogen within your body, producing a remaining pathogenic factor
  • Once your remaining pathogenic factor is trapped there, it may continue to drain your body’s resources
  • Youth’s natural vigour can cope for a while without noticing much even with a remaining pathogenic factor inside ...
  • But eventually the remaining pathogenic factor will erupt again
  • Possibly to seriously deplete your health long-term, as in conditions like chronic fatigue/M.E./post-viral syndrome

    Some people don't have a remaining pathogenic factor. They have something else, called Latent Heat.

What Treatment is available for Remaining Pathogenic Factor?

I know of only two forms of therapy that both recognise and have theories and treatments for a remaining pathogenic factor.

  1. Chinese medicine, including acupuncture treatment and herbal treatment, has a theory and treatment modality to deal with it. Unfortunately it may involve some discomfort because fully to exteriorise the pathogen can often require your body to re-negotiate steps previously avoided.
  2. Homoeopathy has a somewhat similar theory, and uses homoeopathic ‘remedies’ to stimulate the body. Again, these provoke a healing reaction.

During such treatments it is important that the patient be monitored carefully and regularly. Also important is that the patient, who may be unused to feeling ill, is reassured and encourage not to abort the process by resorting to painkillers, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications etc..

If a careful case history is taken before treatment commences, it should point to the kinds of reactions the patient may expect.

Homoeopathic theory suggests that where there have been multiple suppressions, on its way to the exterior the pathogenic factor may take a number of forms, sometimes repeating old diseases.

Therapists with homoeopathic training will be more alert to these possibilities.

I should also mention Natural Medicine and its methodologies such as Hydrotherapy which attempt to stimulate your body into producing a fighting, exteriorising function. I'm not sure they have a theory to explain the results other than that shared with homoeopathy.

However, in spite of everything you've read above, if you have been given a course of antibiotics, please finish them as desired by your doctor. Not to do so may allow the bacteria to recover, and may even enable them to learn how to overcome the antibiotic, rendering that antibiotic less useful in the future.

As you may know, the number of effective antibiotics is being reduced by bacterial adaptation and increased resistance. Indeed, we are warned that indiscriminate or incorrect use of antibiotics may make the bugs so resistant that we shall return to the situation before antibiotics were discovered, making us susceptible to many diseases we thought were vanquished.

A third way to health

There is a third way to rid yourself from your remaining pathogenic factor, which patients sometimes encounter by good fortune. It isn’t a therapy, but nature taking its course. It isn’t open to everyone, because it takes a certain amount of energy to work.

And, nowadays, we are often a bit frightened of it, sometimes with good reason. So, as I said, it's not for all of us.

It happens when a patient, with a pre-existing remaining pathogenic factor which hasn’t yet erupted into long-term chronic fatigue, has an invasion of Wind-Cold or Wind-Heat and doesn’t try to suppress it.

This sometimes happens on the way back from a restful holiday when the patient’s body has recovered good supplies of Yin, Yang, Qi and Blood energy again.

To the patient it feels as if they are catching a dreadful infection – a bug! Often this is blamed on the plane's air-conditioning or on catching it from another passenger.

They get a fever, feel very hot, feel awful, and would normally reach for the painkillers and phone their doctor for help.

However, if instead they just let the disease process work its way out, getting a sensation of heat, then sweating as explained, it is possible that they’ll also rid themselves of any remaining pathogenic factor they had, naturally and at the same time as they exteriorise the bug they've just caught.

Then both are gone, and they’ll find they have a much better level of energy and health than before.

In children, early diseases like chicken pox, mumps and measles often have a similar effect. Preventing them from occurring, either via immunisation or by suppression, may stop this burning-out, exteriorising, reaction, leading to retention of a remaining pathogenic factor. Read more about this under suppression.

If someone catches a bug and doesn’t manage to produce the ‘fever/feel hot and sweat’ reaction described of their own accord, then they should seek treatment from a practitioner who understands and can monitor and treat the condition properly.

Suppression: what it is and what it isn’t.
Latent Heat: the terrorist cell lurking in your body!
External Causes of Disease
Internal Causes of Disease

Return from Remaining Pathogenic Factor to our Theory page.

Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott Books

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Qi Stagnation - Signs of Stress

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Yuck! Phlegm! How to Clear Your Phlegm ...

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The idea of the Remaining Pathogenic Factor (RPF) explains many chronic conditions!

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RPF and Fasting 
Another way people seem to deal with RPF is water-only fasting, for up to 8 or 10 days (of course with due preparation and prior shorter fasts). Body metabolism …

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