Did you know that herbal formulas designed over 2,500 years ago are still used today?
The most precious herbal strategy books come from the Eastern Han dynasty (25 AD – 220 AD). They were compiled by an outstanding physician called Zhang Zhongjing (張仲景; 150–219), formal name Zhang Ji (張機). The first book called Shang Han Lun (On cold damage) talks about how external factors affect us internally and what herbal formulas are best used in each layer of the body. The second book called Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential prescriptions of the golden cabinet) talks about miscellaneous (complex) conditions. Up to this day, the prescriptions from these compilations are widely used and applied for 21st century conditions. Amazing!
Did you know that Chinese herbs are mainly categorised by their flavour and temperature rather than their chemical compounds?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) has evolved over 5,000 years and until today works for the management of disease, maintenance of health, and prolongation of life not only in Southeast Asian countries but also in the West.
Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) is one of the main modalities of TCM. Up to 20 herbs might be used in an herbal formula. Those herbs are used because of their synergistic effect and not due to their individual chemical compounds. The herbs work as a team in a formula that is tailored to your needs. Based on the model that combines different herbs, the principle of Emperor–Minister-Assistant-Courier is used to classify individual herbs and their action. This is important to best achieve the desired therapeutic effects and to minimise any adverse effects.
Further on, the herbs have both a temperature and a flavour. Each flavour is associated with a certain action in the body. This is how CHM is viewed energetically, rather than their compounds having a particular effect on target tissues in the body. This is very different from the Western medical paradigm. Flavours are also associated with the 5-element model and the use of warm herbs in cold conditions, cooling herbs for hot conditions and neutral temperatures for either is self-explanatory.
Did you know that herbal formulas treat the whole person and their imbalance rather than a particularly labelled illness?
We always say that Chinese medicine is a wholistic system and we mean it when we make that statement. Even though there are different ‘diagnostic’ systems to assess the ‘imbalance’ of your health, we still always regard it as part of a whole system. We use different language to address those parts that are imbalanced such as Yin or Yang deficiency or excess, internal or external as well as hot and cold.
We might use pulse or tongue diagnosis, abdominal or ‘channel’ (meridian line) palpation. We might use 5-element or Zang Fu (hollow and full organ) diagnosis. We could use laboratory analysis or a combination of those or combine with a different other than Chinese medicine systems such as kinesiology or laboratory analysis. But our highest aim is always to treat the person and not the condition.
Did you know that Chinese herbs are not supplements but rather medicines that are taken for a period of time and not in definitively?
From the Western medical system, we are used to thinking that we can take certain compounds, pills, powders, or tablets to impact a process, an organ, a deficiency, an excess, or pain.
In Chinese medicine, we have a slightly different approach and so do herbs. Herbal medicines are considered a medicine and not something like fish oil, Vitamin C or Vitamin D that you always take. The herbal formulas are chosen based on a disharmony and are only administered as long as this imbalance exists.
We very much consider our bodies as being very capable in making corrections, rebalancing and by this gaining health and wellbeing. We also believe in the body and mind connection and herbs might be given with a focus on the mind to get the body better or vice versa. So, herbs are only given in the same composition for a period.
Did you know that pulse and tongue diagnosis are an integral part of Chinese medicine diagnosis?
Chinese medicine pulse diagnosis is based on the idea of the internal organs manifesting their state of health on both wrists of a person. Several different interpretation models exist and have evolved over time. Common principles and interpretation of the pulses (there are at six different ones, three on each side) is based on three positions on each side.
Closest to wrist (cun)
Middle position (guan)
Stomach or Spleen
Kidney Yin (and Yang)
|Furthest from wrist (chi)
Kidney Yang (and Yin)
(Figure 1 From ‘Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, A Contemporary Approach’ (2).
230 K. Bilton et al.)
Extending from the pulse positions and the organs they ‘represent’, we also assess a variety of pulse depths to help us refine our evaluation. We further compare the qualities of the two wrist pulses with one another. Based on this palpation, we identify a pattern diagnosis which means that a condition of disease is expressed in a configuration of imbalance such as yang deficiency, yin deficiency, stagnation, or stasis, etc.). and sometimes, several patterns at the same time. Pulse diagnosis assists us to identify the body layer(s) involved with the presenting condition. Pulse taking and diagnosis takes time and effort to study, practice and master.
In Chinese medicine, we are very interested in tongues. So, during your consultation with a registered Chinese medicine practitioner, we will ask you to stick your tongue out. We will look at the body colour, the body shape, and the coating/absence of coating. Tongue diagnosis is very useful in complex conditions where there are a variety of contradicting signs and symptoms present. In Chinese medicine, we believe that the tongue has connections to the organs, the state of body fluids (which includes blood) as well as the meridians.
These diagnostic methods are unique in Chinese medicine. According to the style of practice of your practitioner, they may be used as single point of diagnosis or could be used as an add-on or confirmation of a Chinese medicine diagnosis.
Did you know that Chinese medicine is several thousand years old?
We don’t know exactly how old Chinese medicine is but it’s possible that it is one of the oldest healthcare systems. Some of the ancient records were lost but we know from a comprehensive library, that there is an over 3,000 years old history. There are several classical books that still inform the practice of our medicine today, for example the Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine) which has its origin in the Bronze age, or the Yijing (The Book of Changes), a compilation illustration of the course of life based on the model of mathematical regulation during the Iron age. References that discuss herbal medicines come from the Han dynasty around 2,500 years (Shang Han Lun – Discourse on Cold Damage Disorders) a team of raging diseases. All these books inspire the practice of Chinese herbal medicine today. They are exceptional works that have prevailed history and time.
Did you know most herbs in Chinese medicine are acquired from plants?
The Chinese Pharmacopeia 2020 edition now lists 2,711 traditional medicines. The approximate percentage of plant substances is 85%, compared to around 10% of animal and 5% of mineral products. In recent years, the rise of vegetarians and vegans, animal products are often questioned and need to be avoided. The other reason for animal products to be less popular (to say the least) is the illegal trade of exotic and threatened species such as rhinoceros’ horn, tiger bones, donkey-hide gelatine and many more. Animal substances also includes insects (Leech) or faeces from creatures such as flying squirrel poo. We have written extensively on the use and non-use of animal products. Contrarily, the use of mineral products such as seashells is still common. Those substances are used to ‘anchor Yang’ and calm the mind. They are very effective in doing so. A variety of shells is available and will be chosen according to the presenting pattern.
Did you know Chinese medicine is based on a philosophy of balance and flow with nature?
It is important to recognise that Chinese medicine is regarded as a holistic model and has a variety of frameworks. Before creation, everything started with the Taiji (Tai Chi) means great pole and implied the supreme ultimate state of non-differentiation and infinite potential. The Taiji marks the state before duality (dualism). From the state of infinite possibility, our universe has created itself from Yin and Yang spontaneously which is the basic framework in Chinese medicine. Ancient cosmology refers to Qi (vapour, air, breath, vital energy, vital force or simply energy) advancing from Yin and Yang. Everything in existence is made from Qi, and anything can be categorised into Yin or Yang. Qi is lifeforce. The Yin Yang pair helps to describe functional relationships such as Yin is female, cold, passive, internal, dark, passive and Yang is male, warm, active, external, bright, and active. The opposite forces of Yin and Yang in the natural world complement, interconnect, and interdependently originate or give rise to one another. For example, the night gives rise to the day. Without rain, there is no ocean; and without stars, there is no universe. Humans are a micro-organism in the vast space of the universe and this planet. As such, they interact with naturalistic laws of ebb and flow. Humans adjusting and aligning to these waxing and waning (for example day and night or the seasons), experience increased health. Being out of the natural flow means that there is potential for dis-ease and less wellbeing.
Do you know what five element theory is?
An excellent representation of the cycles of nature and changing conditions of the world within and around us the five elements or also called the five phases (Wu Xing) framework. The theory behind the Wu Xing is that everything in existence can be explained with five characteristics: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. If the concept of Yin and Yang is combined with the five phases, all processes of transformation or change can be described. This means the rising and weaning of Yin and Yang throughout a 24-hour cycle. It symbolises how human aspects such as health and emotions are interconnected with nature or the environment.
Each phase generates the following, adversely impacts the previous one or conquers the one that is in opposite direction. For example, wood creates fire, but fire destroys wood and wood conquers earth. The five phases model not only describes how the whole is organised and reflected in its parts, within the human body, it explains the integration of body, mind, and spirit.
Did you know that Chinese medicine practitioners extend their clinical skills by reading case reports?
For Chinese medicine practitioners, reading case studies and case reports is equally valuable as running a randomised double-blinded clinical trial (the gold standard in evidence-based research). Chinese has not only persisted for several thousand years but has also been known as a medicine based on observation. When compiling case reports, we are observing the health journey of one individual. We consider their very own situation, and all their symptoms and signs are important to us because they will provide us an insight to what is going for that person in relation to their health. It informs us about factors that might be out of balance (such as digestion or sleep). These factors are captured in detail as part of a case report. To us Chinese medicine practitioners, these are real-world phenomena. Case reports, we recently discovered, are over 3,000 years old and have played an integral part in acquiring clinical skills.