Chinese Medicine and Your Health

What Is Chinese Medicine?


Classical Chinese Medicine is an ancient medical system that includes Chinese Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture, Moxabustion, Cupping, Bloodletting, Diet Therapies, Tai Qi, and Taoist Meditation. Some people refer to it as TCM.

Chinese Medicine is unique in its written history. There is a continuous written record, including thousand of case studies, spanning 2200 years. Chinese Medicine is not “folk medicine” but was developed by the educated intelligentsia of ancient China. It is an empirical system based on close observation of large numbers of people over a long period of time. 

The people that invented paper, silk, gunpowder, and the compass, also developed a system of medicine. As long ago as the Han dynasty, around 200 of the C.E., Chinese medicine had already achieved a high level of sophistication.  Our earliest texts of Chinese Medicine include treatises on Acupuncture channel theory and techniques, on the Internal Organs, on the causes of disease, and the treatment of infectious, traumatic, and chronic disease. They also offer advice on prevention, mental and physical healthy lifestyle, and how to live with the seasons.


What is TCM?

Under the communist system, these disparate methodologies were synthesized by the Central Govt of Mao Tse Tung, and renamed TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine. Unfortunately, in this process the communists eliminated much of the classical wisdom, especially in the case of acupuncture. That is another story for another time. But just to say that TCM is a modern version of Classical Chinese Medicine. Its based in a way on tradition, but its modern, as much as traditional


Chinese Herbal Medicine treats both the Causes of Diseases and their Symptoms

We use Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine to treat both the causes and symptoms of disorder.  Chinese Herbal medicine is a premodern drug therapy. Actually we use more than just herbs, which is why we also just call it Chinese Medicine.  While comprised mostly of plant based herbs,  Chinese Medicine also use minerals and animal products. We use wierd things like dried earthworm and dried centipede in the treatment of stroke. Also used are minerals from the sea, like  cuttlefish bone and oyster shell in the treatment of gut issues and insomnia. We even use processed iron in the case of rheumatic arthritis and sports injuries involving broken bones.


Can I Come in for a Chinese Herbal Diagnosis without getting Acupuncture?

Yes! Chinese Herbs can be used by themselves, without acupucture, and often are in China. In fact, in China, to be a Chinese Medicine doctor means to specialze in Chinese herbal medicine. Whereas acupuncture is more part of what we would call the physical therapy department, and dermatology. This is not true in Japan or the rest of Asia where there is much more overlap between acupuncture and chinese herbal medicine, as in the USA.

There are many disorders, like IBS, Menstrual Irregularity, PMS, Insomnia, Anxiety, Weak Immune System, that improve more quickly if you combine your Herbs with acupuncture.


How does Chinese Medicine Differ from BioMedicine?

Chinese Medicine is a premodern system of Medicine that, like BioMedicine, is rational, logical, and systematic. It has its own language for describing diseases and the underlying imbalances that cause disease. We have a rational system of describing these imbalances which we call the “pattern of disharmony.”


Patterns of Disharmony Are the Cause of Symptoms

Your Pattern of Disharmony is the Specific type of Imbalance that is the Root of your symptoms. In Chinese, its called Bian Zheng.

Chinese Medicine Places Disease into one of three categories–External (infectious), Internal (chronic stress or emotional causes) and Miscellenous (various types of injury).  In each category, we determine the unique pattern, or  Bian Zheng, and that tells us which herbal medicines and which acupuncture patterns to use.


External Causes An Example of Same Disease Name (Flu) with Different Pattern/Symptoms

This includes infection from outside your body, whether air or water borne. Disease like Covid, Influenza, Bronchitis, Colds, Food Poisoning, Cholera, Malaria are a few examples. Key point is that each disease has more than one pattern.

For example, Naomi has the flu with extreme fatigue, and a hacking unproductive cough. Her husband, Ali, has the flu with less fatigue, but headaches, and a productive wet cough.


Different Pattern, Different Herbs

Each of these persons gets a different herbal formula, according to their pattern. The starting point here are the differences in the cough, and fatigue, and in addition the tongue and pulse presentations, which will talk about in part 2.

Naomi’s formula will moisten the phlegm and stop the hacking, while Ali’s herbal prescription will dry the wet cough and address the headaches.

At a time when people lived much more simply, and without electricity, diseases of External Cause also including ailments like chillblains and heat stroke that were a function of the weather, or external climate.


Internal Causes

Internal causes include inherited constitutional disease, what would now be seen as autoimmune disorders of various types due to DNA. But autoimmune disorders can also express themselves during times of high stress. We see this with psoriais and the arthritic disorders. Many skin issues are worsened by stress, and this is an “internal cause” . Eczema, chronic and acute hives, and acne are good examples.


The Role of the Nervous System and Mind

What is interesting here, is that the ancient Chinese, long before western psychology, observed that a large portion of disease of internal causes is from “affect damage”. Affect damage here is the damage dont to the nervous system by unresolved emotions, by overwhelming emotional states brought on by horrific trauma, such as in war, and by individual tendencies towards hyperintensity, hypervigiliance, anger, fear, etc. We now can describe all this in terms of nervous system activation. Chinese herbs, and especially acupuncture have an immediate effect on the negative nervous system states.


Lifestyle Diseases

Diseases of lifestyle, from overwork, to poor mental attitude are seen here. In the end, any disease with the name syndrome attached to it, which means there is no known cause, are almost always nervous system generated. We see this with PTSD disorders, tension and migraine headaches, anxiety and insomnia, anxiety, frustration, and Irritiable Bowel Syndrome….everything involving the Gut-Brain connection and the Vagus nerve.

Actually 120 years ago, the founder of Psychiatry, the Neurologist Freud, discovered the role of the nervous system, via the mind. Most of his patients had some version of PTSD, and many had what we would now call IBS. All were very repressed upper middle class city dwellers, with not healthy exercise, diet, or scope for expressing their feeling. Almost all were women, living in a richly misogynistic society.


Mind and Body are Two Sides of One Coin in Chinese Medicine.

Diseases borne from the nervous system, or “internal causes” is a big topic. The bottom line is that what we in the west, call the mind, is a construct. Actually, there is no such thing as the mind, that you can touch. In fact, every emotion, thought, memory, dream, reflection, desire, state of arousal from anger to worry, can only express itself via the nervous system. A happy child jumps up and down. An angry man clenches his fists, or neck and jaw and shoulders. His face turns red. His eyes burn like fire. The examples are endless, and all idenitfy the effect of the central nervous system’s Fight-Flight-Freeze mechanism that we share with all other animals.


Pattens of Qi Flow in the Body

But the Chinese were on to something. They identified very specifically, the energetic patterns of Qi flow that are created by affect damage. They also identified the pathology created. We have much of this in English, we just dont consider it. For example, “that man makes me sick to to my stomch; she makes me want to vomit; he is so creepy he makes my skin crawl; i was so scarred I as ‘pissing in my pant” or “shitting in my pants.” (Sorry for the vulgarity, but such is the expression.) Or how some people can be frozen by fear.


The Body Keeps Score for the Mind

When a dog is excited we know it, because he jumps up and down, as do children. But at some point we learn to internalize, though never completely. We learn that we cannot just show our feeling externally the way animals do. Alas. In exchange for this human maturity, our body is left to keep the score, and this is the root of lots of “internal” diseases.


Emotions in Chinese Medicine

And what that means, literally, is that Emotions express themselves immediately in the physical body, via the Endocrine and Nervous systems. If you think of your mother, something happens. Think of the dog, something else does.

The good news is, that long ago the Chinese medicine doctors developed herbal formulas, much like today’s PPIs, Valium, Zoloft, Ambien, but much safer and more effective, that restore the Qi mechanism.


Qi Flow

When normal Qi flow is restored, the body heals. For example, when are lungs are healthy we inhale and exhale with not problems. But when our lungs are inflamed, full of mucus, or damaged as in POCD, then we cough. We call cough “rebellious Qi” in the same way that excessive belching is.

Chinese Herbs for cough, like the drug guafanesin, restore the Qi flow of the lung.  At the same time they are usually anti-inflammatory and mucolytic.

The Chinese observed and noted the very specific effects that emotions have on our body’s Qi.  Fear creats movement, Anger creates tension and heat, Joy raises the Qi, Grief causes the Qi to sink (what depression is).


What is Shen

The term for mind, Shen, includes all emotions, cognitions, mental function. And Mind is the cause of “Affect Damage” a term translated from the Chinese that describes “how our emotions and nervous system, when unregulated, make us ill. 


Diet as an Internal Cause

Its easy to see how overeating, and eating too much saturated fat and sugar can be causes of disease. But Chinese medicine has specific views about diet depending on your bodymind type, your ailment, and the season. People with excess cold need warming food. Others with excess heat, need cooling food. No brainer. I find it a challenge to interest American patients in the intricacies of chinese diet therapy. But at a basic level, for example, i will generally recommend abstaining from wheat, gluten, and dairy in cases of allergy and acne. If you are interested in a specific diet, please do let me know, as it is a speciality of mine.




Miscellaneous Causes

Miscellaneous here, does not mean unimportant. Its actually a broad category that includes Sports Injuries, Traumatic Injuries, poisoning, and also snake and insect bites.

So everything with a purely physical injury, and no infectious agent, from herniated disc or tennis elbow to an infected spider bite fits in here. And each of these, especially with Sports and Trauma has a pattern based on the amount of swelling, inflammation, bruising, and at what stage of the recovery we see the patient. The herbs for an acute herniated disc are different from the ones we use with chronic back pain.


Finding The Pattern is The First Step in Treating Disease

Each Pattern of Disharmony or Bian Zheng points me to  a specific chinese herbal medicine prescription, a particular acupuncture protocol, and  diet and or lifestyle modifications that are in turn, specially tailored  to improve your unique condition in a specific point in time.


Two Women with Two Different Patterns of Menstrual Pain Are Given Different Chinese Herbs


Pain due to Blood Vacuity and Cold with weakness of Yang Qi


Sonia has cramps that are much improved with hot compresses or heating pad. She is also very fatigued during her period.

The cause of Sonia’s pain could be the pattern called  “blood vacuity and cold associated with yang vacuity”.  Sonia will get a very specific formula with lots of warming and nourishing herbs, some herbs to relieve pain that are also warming, and a very light acupuncture treatment with lots and lots of moxabustion.


Menstrual Pain due to Blood and Qi stasis with Heat due to Liver Depression


Yael has horrific cramps, with lots of Premenstrual irritability, headaches, and swollen painful breasts, constipation that improves with bleeding, and large purple veins under her tongue. She might have cramps that are due to “blood stasis due to longstanding Qi stasis”. Her cramps might also be caused by  “pathological heat due to Liver depression Qi stagnation”.

Yael will benefit from an herbal prescription that moves Qi and Blood rather than nourish it. At the same time she needs herbs that clear heat and “crac” the stagnant blood. She will also need more frequent acupuncture both before and during the bleeding.

Making a diagnosis of the cause of the symptoms for the Chinese Medicine or Chinese Herbal Medicine physician does not come from guessing, dowsing, or looking at the stars. We follow a  a very careful diagnostic methodology, as follows:


Relationship between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Ancient Chinese Philosophy

Chinese Medicine is rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy. Its shares concepts with both Taoism, such as the idea of Yin and Yang, and Confucionism, like the idea of natural order.


Conquering an Enemy Versus Restoring Harmony

European medicine since Galen has believed in heroic measures. It has viewed disease as an enemy to be conquered and defeated, rooted out with surgery, or poisoned with drugs. Chinese medicine is based on therapies that strengthen the body’s ability to fight disease on its own, while also attacking the Qi and Blood stasis or Wind Heat Damp causing the illness.

If, God forbid, someone I knew had cancer, I would definitely recommend they follow BioMedicine for treatment in most cases…But BioMedicine offers nothing for recovery from the effects of Chemo and Radiation therapy. Here  I would offer them Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture for to help recover from the biomed treatment. Our tonic Fu Zheng herbs, like Cordyceps and Reishii to name just wo, are absolutely amazing for the recovery from from cancer treatment, and also for  chronic fatigue from post viral illness. PostCovid is an example


Chinese Medicine Views Human Beings the Way Organic Gardeners View Plants and the Soil They Grow In

Every human being is seen as a unique terrain with its own particular eco-system. The doctor is a gardener working hand-in-hand with the patient on the soil, using acupuncture and herbs like irrigation and compost, building a plant that is healthy and able to fight disease.

This is the opposite of the Western medical view in which the body is a sum of mechanical parts, to be replaced or treated at most exact micro level. There are times when surgical and drug intervention is necessary.



Chinese Herbal Medicine Is Natural, Safe, Effective, and Free of Side Effects

It excels at the treatment of the degenerative and functional diseases that characterize life in wealthy countries.

And, unlike Western medicine, Chinese Medical methods can be an antidote to stress. Acupuncture with herbs can have the same beneficial effects as meditation and yoga on the nervous system.. Chinese medicine successfully treats internal medicine disease, gynecology or Women’s Health, respiratory disease, digestive disorders, infectious disease, dermatalogical complaints, and both acute and chronic pain conditions. . It is effective in pediatrics as well as gerontology.




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