The role of Herbal Medicine in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine)
Around the world for the past 3,000 years people have relied on Herbal Medicine to treat their conditions more than any other form of medicine. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in China. For the last 3,000 years Billions of people have seen Millions of TCM practitioners to treat their conditions. Although this century has seen the rise of Western Medicine in China, this is usually for emergency conditions where Western Medicine excels. However, for chronic conditions ranging from asthma, skin diseases, heart disease, and even increasing breast size in young or lactating women, herbal medicine is the preferred treatment.
Please allow me to explain briefly how TCM practitioners view chronic diseases. Primarily there are initially 4 areas that need to be evaluated.
1. Blood circulation. We know that young children and infants can fall a few thousand times in their developmental years and not have any lasting adverse effects. This is believed to be the healthy state of the blood vessels and the blood circulation. As we get older we can’t fall more than a few times without having serious repercussions. In TCM, aging is the aging of the vascular system. TCM was originally focused on the treatment of the Emperor, and maintaining his health so that he could live a long life and procreate as much possible. This is why the top practitioners treated the Emperor and developed forms of diagnosis to address disorders which may appear in the future. It is said that the highest level of practicing TCM is to treat the patient before any illness appears. This is primarily done by pulse diagnosis. All of the best texts on TCM come from the vaults of the forbidden city where the doctors treating the Emperor maintained their library. Now the vaults have been opened, the texts translated and the information is available. What remains esoteric is how to perform exacting diagnosis using the pulse. I have studied with a few Chinese masters in pulse diagnosis, leading me to be competent in diagnosing and treating a wide variety of conditions effectively. Once the correct diagnosis has been performed the prescribing of herbal formulas, follows naturally allowing me to custom prepare herbal formulas and constantly modify them as the patient progresses.
2. Qi circulation. There are many definitions of Qi but the correct translation is vital air (oxygen) and not energy which was mistakenly translated as such by one French translator. Nutrients from the food we eat is also considered a type of Qi as it supplies us with nutrients. Another type of Qi (Wei Qi) refers to the functioning of the immune system.
3. Nervous system. The next area of vital interest is the state of the nervous system. Due to injuries, surgeries, diabetes and blocked flow of blood circulation the nervous system will become attenuated, resulting in pain, tingling or numbness. This is commonly addressed first with acupuncture and as the patient sees improvement in their nervous system disorders herbs are usually recommended.
4. State of internal/external organs. Per TCM the body’s organs are viewed as internal and external organs. The Stomach, Large Intestine for example are seen as exterior organs as they communicate to the exterior via the mouth or the anus. Internal organs, such as the adrenal glands, liver, etc., are evaluated as to their functioning and the substances they secrete.
Initially a patient is diagnosed according to two factors. The internal strength of the patient, meaning the functioning of the organs to supply immunity and protection against illness. For example, a common case exists where a patient is Fatigued, Anxious, and Depressed (this is so common that there is an an acronym called FAD) which left untreated by Herbal Medicine will lead to poor functioning of the organs system(s) allowing the person to either be invaded by external factors such as wind, cold, heat or dampness, or directly affect the organ systems which will cause further decline of the organ functioning. From a Western perspective this may be viewed as a decline in the immune response or even an over-active immune response resulting in auto-immune diseases. In TCM the above state is referred to as a deficient condition requiring herbs such as Ginseng.
Once a deficient condition has occurred it is very common that an “excess” condition will appear, such as sinusitis, endometriosis, pain, and most of the conditions that you are familiar. A balance between the person’s strength (immune), vitality, etc., must be viewed in respect to the internal disorders that may appear. The treatment must first concentrate on removing the excess condition, by using herbs that promote blood circulation, remove heat conditions (infections) and resolve any excess condition that may be present. Further examples of this are asthma with phlegm production, dysmenorrhea, colitis, heart conditions, etc. To use tonic herbs at this point would be a grave error and actually cause the excess condition to become worse. Once the excess condition has been relieved and the patient no longer exhibits an excess condition, a short course of herbs are used to quickly improve the functioning of the immune system and then a course of tonifying herbs are used to strengthen the patient so that no further excess conditions may appear. This period of tonification takes time to be effective, usually longer than the period to remove the actual disorder. Ideally maintenance with continued use of herbs is recommended so as to protect the patient and extend the life span. In this way, TCM may be seen as a truly holistic approach.
By using TCM in this manner virtually all conditions may be addressed and relieved, excepting those requiring surgical intervention due to structural, or emergency conditions.