The Chongmai link: genitalia, sexual function, the nose, vomeronasal organ and pheromones

Gilbert Lambrechts MD1
Philip AM Rogers MRCVS2
1Courseleader of the Belgian Medical Acupuncture Association
2Grange Research Centre, Teagasc, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

If students of acupuncture compare textbooks, they will find that different authors give different information on the same subject. Different textbooks show different functions for some points; some books even differ in their location of the pathways of some Channels. For example, some books show the pathway of the Yangweimai to the ear but others show it behind the ear.

Variation between textbooks makes it very difficult for students to decide which is correct. The basis for these differences is probably because the original Chinese sources differ amongst themselves, depending on the year and region of its origin. In my opinion modern scientific data may help to answer some of these questions.

The path of the Chongmai (Penetrating, or Thorougfare, or Strategic Extra-Vessel) in the face is one of these problems. Some authors mention a branch that travels to the nose; others say that it ends in the eye. Some say that there is no branch to the face. Which is correct? The true connections of the Chongmai have important implications for practitioners.

We will discuss new western research that could explain a connection between the Chongmai pathway and the nose, via Jacobson's (the vomeronasal) Organ.

Examples of the Chongmai pathway are selected from the following textbooks:

Let us look in detail, what these authors show us.


Which pathway on the face is correct?
Although the above authors differ in some other details about the Vessel pathway, whether or not the Chongmai connects to the nose is of great importance to clinicians.

Modern scientific data have proven a link between reproductive-genital-sexual behaviour, the nasal cavity and pheromones. Pheromones are volatile chemicals, secreted in minute amounts by insects and animals. Transmitted in air or water, pheromones act as chemical messengers; they can provoke behavioural or physiological changes in other animals of the same, or different, species.

Mechanisms of pheromone-signalling: To function effectively, a pheromone-signalling system needs three parts; it needs a mechanism:

Different types of pheromones
Many types of pheromones have been found in many species of insects and mammals. There are different categories of pheromones:

Many pheromones have been isolated from insects and mammals, and some have been synthesised. They have many uses, for example, wolf urine to repel smaller mammals, sex-attractants to trap and control insects (like orchard moths and honeybees), and natural musk in the productions of perfumes. Research is ongoing on the use of sex-pheromones in farm animals to aid the detection of oestrus and ovulation, or even to induce it.

Proof that human pheromones exist
Some studies suggest the existence of human pheromones. In 1971, Dr Martha McClintock published an article in ‘Nature’ about the synchronisation of the menstrual cycle with roommates of a school ("the dormitory effect"). Pheromones could be the substances responsible for this observation. It took her until 1998 to prove that it was a chemical substance secreted by the sweat glands that influenced the menstrual cycle. In a group of women the axillary sweat was collected on cotton balls in the pre-ovulatory phase, the ovulatory phase and in the post-ovulatory phase. After impregnation with alcohol, to exclude other odours, a group of subjects were asked to smell from the cotton balls at regular times. Depending on the time of pheromone presentation in the pre– or postovulatory phase, timing of menstruation moved significantly forward or backward. She concluded that the sweat of women contains chemical substances, pheromones, and that through the olfactory system, they can stimulate another female to change her menstruation pattern. By showing in a fully controlled experiment that the timing of ovulation can be manipulated, this study provides definitive evidence of human pheromones. (See more details in the Appendix, below).

Which receptors bind pheromones in the nose?
There is heavy evidence that the vomeronasal organ (also called Jacobson’s organ) acts as the pheromone receptor. It is a little sense organ (part of the "sixth sense") just beside the cartilage of the nasal septum and just beside the olfactory nerve. It is only stimulated by pheromones and not by odours, while the olfactory nerve is only stimulated by odours and not by pheromones.

The vomeronasal organ, in the floor of the nose of horses and cattle, is equipped with an olfactory mucous membrane and is especially developed. Chinese veterinary literature describes very effective acupoints in the roof of the mouth in cattle at the opening of its ducts (the nasopalatine ducts). The points are GV28-01; their indications include bloat, tympany, dyspepsia, disorders of the neonatal sucking reflex. These points give very good results in our experience in treating cattle (Dr. Oswald Kothbauer DVM, Personal communication). Stud male animals (cattle, sheep, horses) exhibit a behavioural reaction, the flehmen reaction, in the presence of females in heat. Sensing of sex-pheromone is said to trigger the reaction. In rats, application of zinc sulphate, or local anaesthetic to the nasal area prevents them from sensing pheromones and prevents sexual synchronisation.

Jacobson’s organ


Relation with Chongmai
Menstruation and Xue-Blood are inseparable; the Chongmai always is involved in menstrual problems, more then CV. Chongmai, is known also as Xuehai, Blood-Sea (the same name as SP10-Xuehai). It regulates all the Twelve Main Channels and its main function is to regulate menstruation and the distal genitalia, female and male (Wiseman & Ye 1998). Chongmai governs the Xue, while Renmai controls the Qi-Energy. Most TCM texts cited here agree that the Chongmai reaches the head. We suggest that it MUST connect with the nose also.

McClintock's research has proved, pheromones can influence menstruation through the vomeronasal organ in the nose. Following this reasoning, we can suggest that all textbooks should mention this branch of Chongmai to the nose. That connection is in keeping with the most important function of the Vessel in treating disorders of the genitourinary and reproductive systems, and sexuality. In TCM, the Chongmai and Renmai (CV) cooperate to regulate uterine and reproductive function. "The KI is the foundation of the native constitution; the SP provides the material basis of the acquired constitution; the CV unites all the Yin of the body; the Chongmai is a sea of the twelve Channels" (Xu 1984). Through the Chongmai and CV, acupuncture nourishes uterus to adjust the patient's axis function and recover ovulation. (Mo et al 1993).

One can say that this is of no clinical value, but in my practice I saw several cases of menstrual problems together with nasal obstruction, which problems disappeared both after treating Chongmai by SP04 (Gongsun) and PC06 (Neiguan). Also, BL40-Xuexi (on the Chongmai) has been used to treat epistaxis (Li 1987). Also, according to its pathway, pubic pain relates intimately with injury of Chongmai (Lanza 1984).

Textbooks differ in their descriptions of pathways of some Channels and Vessels. This makes it difficult for students and practitioners to choose which one is correct. Modern scientific data may help to solve these problems. We argue that the function of the vomeronasal organ in sensing pheromones, the role of pheromones in sexual expression, the usefulness of the Chongmai in some nasal conditions, strongly suggest a functional link between the Chongmai and the nose. We must continue to search for new data to help to clarify and unify acupuncture theory.



Key references from Martha McClintocks Pheromone research [from Pubmed Medline]