Sunday, June 9, 2013

Alternative Medicine From China

What Makes the Alternative Medicine from the East so Popular?

Chinese Medicine is over 3,000 years old.

In the ancient times, in China, interested people in the various tribes and cultures, through observation, noted the healing effects of various elements in nature on the human body. Somewhere around year 90BC this knowledge was then brought together to standardize and systematize the scattered and seemingly confusing information.

In Chinese medicine a medical problem is considered a symptom rather than a disease. The emphasis is on curing the cause and not the symptom of the disease. So no cause means no disease.

It is based on the Chi (the balance of circulating energy in the body), Yin-Yang (the complementary and opposite forces that make up the life force) and the Theory of Five Elements (wind, fire, earth, metal and water), which emphasize the relationship between the human body and its natural environment and its inter-dependence.

The conviction is that all the elements in nature are forever changing and influence the human body and their inter-dependence. And all these elements exist in cosmic balance dictated by the laws of nature.

The disease of the body cannot be treated alone; the mind has to be treated as well. A balance exists between the influences of the body and mind on each other. A sick body can make the mind sick and conversely a sick mind can make a body sick.

The knowledge and technique of traditional Chinese medicine was unknown until the early 17th century when missionaries came to China. They then brought to the Western world translations of the Chinese medicine test books on techniques and methods of natural healing. Interestingly Western medicine practice was first introduced into China soon after.


Not all ancient text, however, has been translated into Western languages so the practice of traditional Chinese medicine is limited to a few practitioners who can read ancient Chinese text. Something to keep in mind when deciding to consult a Chinese Medicine practitioner.

When you walk into the practitioner's room with stomachache, he will not just examine that one problem. He will attempt to determine the cause and thus the imbalance in the body that is causing the stomachache and be able to bring harmony back to the body.

Even before you have mentioned your problem, the practitioner would have completed part of his investigation by observing the posture, the color of the skin, the state of the eye, the body odor, etc.

The practitioner will then continue the inquiry by asking relevant questions and touching the pulse, etc. So he completes the four form of inquiry for the correct diagnosis of the problem,

1. Looking,
2. Listening & Smelling,
3. Asking and
4. Touching.

Traditional Chinese medicine these days is practiced all over the world and the herbs used in the healing do not only come from China, for example cinnamon from India, cloves from Vietnam and Ginseng which is grown locally in Wisconsin.
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Reviews of Chinese Medicinal Approaches

Traditional Chinese Medicine

China is a country thousands of years old. The history of Chinese medicinal approaches is nearly as long and definitely interesting.

Traditional Chinese Medicine had its earliest beginning over five thousand years ago. This date is most likely in error as the true origins began even before this as the very first humans to live in the area of what is now China began to discover herbal cures for ailments. The accumulated knowledge of centuries was handed down from generation to generation in a verbal form. It was during the reign of the famous Yellow Emperor between 2698 B.C. and 2596 B.C. that the first written record was made.

This document was called the Neijing Suwen, or "Basic Questions of Internal Medicine." The Neijing Suwen was lost for centuries after this time. From time to time, as the dynasties of China changed, a reference was made to this lost ancient work. Eventually, copies of it were claimed to have been discovered. This edited version may or may not have been actual copies of the original, but regardless, the traditional methods continued to be passed on in a verbal manner as had always been happening in China.

This body of knowledge and philosophy was known as Classical Chinese Medicine or CCM. It was a very complete and organized system that differed very much from traditional Western Medicine. It was much more grounded in a spiritual and philosophical base. The use of acupuncture, massage, and herbal folk medicines all became established methods of treatment and prevention of disease. The final revised version of the Neijing Suwen appeared around the 11th century AD.

When the Nationalist Government took over China at the end of the 19th century, they decided to abandon and even outlaw Classical Chinese Medicine in favor of the more Western and accepted scientific systems that were being developed in the Industrial powers of the time. This decision was based on a fear of being left behind in scientific knowledge. It can be seen as a concession to the idea that if a Nation could build bigger ships and cannons, it must have a superior medical system. However, the belief in and practice of CCM never faltered in rural China despite people being prosecuted for adhering to it.

When the Communist Government took over China, they continued the ban on CCM. Their main objection was the spiritual and religious implications and connection. The need to provide less expensive medical treatment to the masses in rural China eventually called for a rethinking of this stance. In the 1960's, Mao Zedong finally relented and commissioned a group of the top ten doctors in China to reexamine CCM and create a standard for its practice and application. This standard is what is referred to today as Traditional Chinese Medicine.
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How Chinese Herbs Benefit Your Skin

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Chinese herbs are an excellent source of modern drugs and treatment cosmetics, provided one knows where and how to look. To those who are not familiar with it, traditional Chinese medicine(TCM) is mysterious and full of "mumbo jumbo," as its theory and practice are steeped in esoteric terminology. Terms such as qu feng (wind dispelling), qing re (heat removing or dispersing), xie (evil), and yi qi (replenishing vital energy) are certainly difficult to comprehend, though others such as jie du (removing toxins), sheng ji (growing muscles/flesh),ming mu(brightening vision), and an shen (calming the spirit) are more obvious. The terminology may seem archaic and sometimes downright superstitious, but the TCM system has evolved over many centuries in a logical way. One just hasto view it form another perspective. Then it will make sense.

Although I never had formal training in TCM, my research over the past 20 years has enabled me to figure out a few things, especially in the correlation between traditional properties and modern scientific findings, as well as in predicting an herb's pharmacological activities by analyzing its traditional properties. Thus, an herb with qu feng properties most likely has anti-inflammatory activity, such as Job's tear, wu jia pi (bark of several Eleutherococcus spp.), ginger, du huo (Angelica pubescens root), and many other less commonly known ones. Herbs with qing re jie du (heat dispersing and detoxifying) properties generally have antimicrobial and febrifuge effects. Examples include honeysuckle (flower and vine), forsythia fruit, purslane herb, chuan xin lian (Andrographis paniculata herb), yu xing cao(Houttuynia cordata herb), etc.

Herbs Beneficial to Skin

Many herbs are beneficial to the skin and are used both internally and externally for this purpose. They normally have one or more of the following traditional properties: benefits/improves complexion, removes heat, removes toxins, removes swelling, invigorates/nourishes blood, lightens skin, moistens the skin/removes dryness, prevents scar formation, promotes flesh growth, etc. The following are some common ones: lycium fruit, ligustrum, astragalus, licorice, Chinese hawthorn, sanqi (Panax notoginseng), reishi (ganoderma), common jujube, red and white peony root, luffa, safflower flower, Sichaun lovage (Ligusticum chuanxiong rhizome), gaoben (Ligusticum sinense root/rhizome), etc.

Astragalus, licorice, and sanqi are well known for their healing properties. Either alone, or in combination, they can be used in various forms (extracts, powder, etc.) for treating wounds, chapped skin, bruises, dry skin, skin peeling, and other minor skin irritations. You could also add to the formulation one or two of the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial herbs, such as xinyi (magnolia flower bud), purslane herb, honeysuckle flower, or forsythia fruit.

In TCM, Sichuan lovage, gaoben, ligustrum, and Chines hawthorn are used topically to treat brown patches on the skin. The former two have been demonstrated to have tyrosinase inhibitory activity, scientific evidence indicating that these herbs can block excessive pigmentation of the skin.

Studies of the Benefits of Herbs for the Skin

The following are derived from two short reports from my file describing results of using Chinese hawthorn and sanqi for treating brown patches and chapped skin, respectively.

Chinese hawthorn (sanzha) for treating facial brown patches (melasma) [Hubei Zhongyi Zazhi, 16(5): 47(1994)]. Results are described for shanzha treatment of 12 patients with melasma, afflicting mostly the forehead and cheeks, and less so the nose and upper lip. Patients' ages ranged from 23 to 45 years. Shortest duration of illness was 5 months and longest 12 years. Method: Grind 300g of dried raw shanzha to fine powder and reserve for later use. Wash face with warm water and wipe dry with towel. Mix 5g of shanzha powder with an adequate amount of fresh egg white to form a paste and apply it to the face to form a thin film. Let it sit for 1 hour, during which time the face can be massaged to help the herb's absorption. Do this once in the morning and once at night. Sixty (60) applications constituted one course of treatment. Results: After treatment, pigmentation disappeared in 6 patients, whose skin color had returned to normal; it turned lighter in 4 patients; and 2 did not respond. A case example was described for a 23-year-old single woman with melasma on her cheeks, which had been unsuccessfully treated for 6 months and had started to spread to her forehead and bridge of the nose. After 2 courses of shanzha treatment (120 applications; 2 months), the patient's melasma was completely resolved.

In western medical practice, melasma is usually treated with bleaching agents such as hydroquinone, which is rather harsh. Chinese hawthorn fruit has never been known to be toxic and is a common food and medicine. If it doesn't work, it certainly won't hurt. You can buy shanzha from any Chinese herb shop and probably many food markets in Chinatown. But be sure to get the dried raw kind (usually in twisted slices of 1-2 cm in diameter and about 0.5 cm thick), and not the shanzha candy that comes in thin wafers stacked 3-4 cm high and wrapped in paper. If the raw shanzha is not dry enough for grinding, you can dry it in the oven at low heat until it is brittle.

Sanqi (Panax notoginseng) powder for treating severely chapped skin [Jiangxi Zhongyiyao, 23(1): 35(1992)]. In addition to other effects (immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, etc), sanqi is well known for its hemostatic and wound-healing properties. In this report, results of treating 68 patients with chapped skin are presented. Thirty-six patients were complicated with ringworm of the feet and 41 experienced different degrees of pain or bleeding. Duration of illness ranged form 6 months to 15 years. Method: Mix 30g of sanqi powder well with an adequate amount of sesame oil to form a uniform paste, place it in a sealed clean container, and reserve for later use. Soak the afflicted areas with hot but tolerable water for 10-20 minutes before applying the oily paste. Do this 3-4 times daily for 30 days. Results: After treatment, 45 patients were healed, with no recurrence after more than 1 year; and 23 showed improvements, with longer periods between recurrences, which again responded to the same treatment. The fastest response was 3 weeks and the longest 7 weeks, with an average of 3.7 weeks. It is recommended that the paste be also used as a preventive by applying it to affected areas once every 1 to 2 days.

Sanqi or tienchi ginseng is readily available in any Chinese herb shop. It comes in spindle-shaped whole roots, 2-4 cm long and 1-3 cm in diameter, and is very hard. Unless you have a Chinese bronze mortar and pestle with a lid, it is not easy to powder this herb. You may have to break it up witha hammer first and then grind it in a sturdy coffee mill.
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