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Jul 20

Information on Chinese Herbal Medicine

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Information on Chinese Herbal Medicine and Herbs

In China about 80% of all traditional Chinese medical patients are treated with herbs, while the remaining 20% are treated with acupuncture, Tui-na or Qi Gong. Loose herbs are very potent in treating a variety of medical disorders and they offer tremendous advantages to the practitioner who works in this modality.

It is crucial to understand the difference between the Chinese herbal approach (i.e., ingesting the whole plant/animal substance) versus the Western pharmacological approach (i.e., extracting the potent molecule). Western pharmacologists take a plant substance, find the most effective molecule for a certain disease, extract it, patent it and sell it in a very high concentration.

In contrast, a herb which is safe and effective in treating a variety of ailments is considered superior in China. The more illnesses it treats, the more precious it becomes. Ren Shen/Ginseng and Ling Zhi/Ganoderma, for instance, are thought to be very precious because they are tonics to many body systems.

Information on Chinese Herbal Medicine: What is considered a superior drug in Chinese medicine may be considered an inferior drug in Western medicine and vice versa. Chinese medicine follows nature’s way, and seeks treatment success on a broader, more gradual path.

A good example is ephedrine. Derived from the Chinese herb Ma Huang/Ephedra, it was put into a concentrated capsule form for the treatment of asthma in Western medicine. In its pharmaceutical form, ephedrine can over stimulate the heart, leading to high blood pressure , palpitations and increased nervousness. In Chinese medicine, however, Ephedra is used in its natural form, where the ephedrine has a concentration of less than 1% for the treatment of asthma. Although the beneficial effects are more gradual, there are far fewer negative side effects. Ephedra in its natural form is more suitable for gradual absorption into the metabolism of the body because the plant has other ingredients which offset many side effects.

Patients need to understand, as well, that they are responsible for their own health and well-being. Lifestyle changes and taking care of bodily and psychological needs are key components of getting well. Patients should listen to their bodies and pay attention to symptoms, food, work situations, in order to achieve well-being.

Herbal therapy makes patients feel more responsible for their well-being. They take an active role in the healing process by cooking herbs, storing them properly and self-administering them. Like deciding to eat well, exercise, breathe properly, or curb an addiction, herbs can be discussed as part of a general process of conscious lifestyle adjustment leading to better health.

The beauty of prescribing loose herbs is that you can individually tailor each formula to the patient’s needs, and as his/her condition improves you can change your emphasis. Patient compliance is sometimes easier with prepared herbal formulas, but even if you combine two prepared medicines together, they will usually be less effective than loose herbal teas.

What is ‘health’ and ‘disease’?

Any system of medicine must answer the questions ‘What is Health’ and ‘What is disease’? Traditional Chinese medicine holds that health exists when yin and yang within the human body and between the human body and the external environment are kept in a normal, dynamic balance. If the balance is impaired, disease will result. Therefore, an imbalance of yin-yang is always considered the general pathogenesis of disease.

Pathogenic factors impair the normal yin-yang balance. They may originate in the external environment or within the human body. In any disease pathogenic factors attack the body, while on the other hand the vital energy resists them. Disease is the struggle of the vital energy against the pathogenic factors.

Many statements in the Canon of Medicine relate to the battle between the vital energy and the pathogenic factors, emphasising the resisting capacity of the former against the latter:

“Where there is abundant vital energy in the body, invasion of the pathogenic factors is impossible.”

“When the pathogenic factor enters the body, vital energy is bound to be insufficient.”

“A pathogenic factor, such as wind, rain, cold or heat, itself is unable to cause damage to the human body unless there is insufficiency of the vital energy. Some people with good resistance, though caught in a heavy rain and strong wind, do not get ill. Therefore, merely the pathogenic factor itself is not enough to cause a disease.”

The limitations of natural science and technology during ancient times prevented traditional Chinese medicine practitioners from discovering pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. Practitioners did discover etiological factors by observing and analysing clinical manifestations. Though not entirely logical from the modern point of view, this etiology is very useful in clinical practice since it is closely related to therapeutic effects.

Pathogenic factors are usually classified into two groups: the exogenous, which cause exogenous diseases of external infections, and the endogenous, which cause endogenous diseases or internal diseases. Exogenous pathogenic factors include abnormal atmospheric changes, pestilential pathogens, trauma, etc. Common endogenous pathogenic factors are emotions (such as joy, anger, melancholy, anxiety, grief, fear, fright), improper diet, over fatigue, overindulgence in sex, etc.

Among exogenous pathogenic factors, abnormal atmospheric changes are most significant. Not only do they cause seasonal diseases, such as colds in winter and heat-stroke in summer, they also cause most infectious diseases marked by epidemicity.

There are six kinds of atmospheric changes: wind, cold, summer-heat, damp, dryness and fire (intense heat). In a narrow sense, these factors are closely related to changes out of season, such as a warm spell in winter or a cold snap in summer, it can become pathogenic because the body is unable to adapt to these changes. Of course, there is no clear-cut line between normal and abnormal or non-pathogenic and pathogenic. A sudden violent change may not harm individuals with a strong constitution, while those with a weak constitution may find even a mild change pathogenic. Therefore, a practitioner cannot determine the cause of a disease merely by observing atmospheric changes.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Body System

Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shaped by philosophy and restricted by the historical conditions of the natural sciences, it is quite different from modern Western medicine in its conception of the structure of the human body. One of the most outstanding features of this conception is that of the human body as an integral whole. All component parts, including organs and tissues, are considered with respect to the whole body and to their close relationships. Its noteworthy that during its long history of development, traditional Chinese medicine has undergone great improvements, yet little modification in the conception of the structure of the human body has occurred.

In fact, most of the traditional theories and principles are founded not upon anatomy but rather upon functional activities, either physiological of pathophysiological, and rely particularly heavily upon the notion of therapeutic effects. It should also be noted that all the traditional physiological and pathophysiological knowledge was not obtained by laboratory experimentation on isolated organs and systems but rather through the clinical observations of practitioners who viewed the human body as an organic whole.

In traditional Chinese medicine internal organs are the core structure of the functions of the human body. An internal organ in traditional Chinese medicine, also called zang-fu according transliteration, refers to a comprehensive system of physiological functions rather than an anatomical entity. There are five zang organs: heart, liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys. There are six fu organs: small intestine, gall bladder, stomach, large intestine, urinary bladder and sanjiao (triple energiser)*

Generally speaking, zang organs are solid visceral organs, while fu organs are hollow, serving chiefly as passages for food water and waste.

Physiologically, structural and functional connections exist among both the zang and fu organs. Each zang organ is particularly associated with a fu organ. They share functions and are connected by meridians, i.e., the heart and the small intestine, the liver and the gallbladder, the spleen and the stomach, the lungs and the large intestine and the kidneys and the urinary bladder.

Sanjiao (triple energiser)* actually refers to the body cavities: the upper-jiao or upper energiser is the thoracic cavity in which the heart and lungs are situated; the middle-jiao or middle energiser is the upper abdominal cavity where the spleen and stomach lie; the lower-jiao or lower energiser is the rest of the abdominal cavity containing the liver, kidneys, intestines and bladder. In some instances, each part of sanjiao can be used as a comprehensive name for the organs it contains, e.g., middle-jiao can mean the spleen and stomach.

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