Archive for the ‘Chinese Herbs’ Category
Pinellia, is a Chinese herb from the Araceae family. Pinellia is native to southern China and Japan and commonly referred to as the Green Dragon because of the color and shape of the plant’s flower with its long, tongue-like extension of its spadix. Pinellia’s root is the part of the plant used in Chinese Herbal Medicine. To process the root for medicinal use, it is boiled, salted, soaked, steamed and fried with ginger, alum solution, licorice or lime to eliminate all the toxicity of the raw herb. This now processed root is known in Chinese Herbal Medicine as Ban Xia. It is one of the most important herbs in Chinese medicine to dry dampness and transform cold phlegm. While commonly used as an assistant in formulas to expel phlegm in the lungs, ban xia really takes center stage in transforming cold phlegm conditions in the spleen and digestive tract. Thin cold phlegm in the digestive tract is often the result to chronic insufficiency or hypo-functioning. In our culture, this is commonly attributed to dietary intemperance and overeating, which we’re pretty good at.
The spicy and warm nature of the root has an affinity for the lung, spleen and stomach channels. Ban Xia’s actions in the body helps to dry dampness, transform cold phlegm, and descend rebellious qi which can cause stomach upset and vomiting, due to excessive bogginess in the digestive system. By drying excessive mucus and providing directionality in the digestive system, Ban xia is pivotal in reducing distension and stuffiness in the chest or abdomen.
Eucommia bark comes from the eucommia tree, or hardy rubber tree, that originates in the Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Hubei provinces of Central China. It is grown as an ornamental and shade tree that can reach heights up to 60 feet in temperate climates. To obtain the bark of the tree, small patches are peeled away from mature trees in the late summer and early autumn. This allows cultivation of Du Zhong without harming the tree. Wild eucommia trees are rare and are protected; most of the trees used for medicinal purposes are cultivated. The inner bark that is revealed contains a white, rubbery liquid that accounts for eucommia’s healing properties. While this elastomeric sap contains many benefits, it is noted that people with latex allergies may also be allergic to du zhong.
In Chinese Herbal Medicine, Eucommia is considered spicy and sweet; its thermal property in the body is warming. Du Zhong has an affinity for the liver and kidney channels. This affinity lends itself to strengthening muscles and bones and to treat arthritic pain in the lower back and knees. Du Zhong does this by promoting circulation. Du Zhong’s ability to aid in regulating the flow of the qi and blood also proves helpful in lowering high blood pressure. Eucommia is also known as a stabilizer in pregnant women. Eucommia can also be used in a charred form to help calm a “restless fetus” and prevent miscarriage.
Gardenia is a popular ornamental shrub that is a genus of flowering plants in the coffee family, Rubiaceae, native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and southern Asia and is found in warm climates worldwide. Best known for their fragrant white flowers and deep, glossy green leaves, Traditional Chinese Medicine uses the orange, berry-like fruits, better known as Zhi Zi or Cape Jasmine fruit, in many herbal preparations. These berries are harvested in autumn and winter, and used either raw or after being fried and parched and made into a tea or soup for consumption.
According to Chinese herbal medicine, Gardenia possesses a bitter taste and thermally is cold in the body. Zhi Zi enters the Heart, Lung, Stomach and San Jiao Channels. Due to its affinity for multiple channels, it is one of the safer herbs in Chinese medicine for eliminating pathogenic heat in the body through urination. Heat in the body can present as irritability, sores in the mouth, or jaundice. Zhi zi also can act directly on the blood to help cool the blood to stop hemorrhaging. Zhi Zi also facilitates faster healing of traumatic injury by circulating stagnant blood.
In Western Medical terms, Gardenia is recognized to help to lower blood pressure and is effective in treating certain presentations of insomnia and delirium. Zhi Zi has also been shown as an effective agent in urinary tract infections. It is also considered a mild antiseptic and can help to reduce swelling and alleviate pain associated with sprains and abscesses when applied topically.
As Chinese medicine evolved, practitioners began to realize that patients did not live in a vacuum and they could not be treated as such. Every patient affected by an ailment needed to be treated individually because many factors beyond just physical disease were playing a role and required attention. For Master Li Dong-Yuan, lifestyle was a major factor in the preservation of a patient’s well being. He felt that patients’ emotions could heavily influence the qi’s integrity and that physical illness could be eroded by the socio-economics of a war-torn society plagued with famine, epidemics and poverty.
Li Dong-Yuan, also known as Li Gao (1180 – 1251 c.e.), began his medical studies under one of the most famous physicians in the Hubei Province: Zhang Yuan-Su. Li Dong-Yuan’s family was wealthy, so he was afforded a great opportunity to apprentice closely with Zhang Yuan-Su and the teachings of the Yi Shui School. It was from this direct influence that he formulated his own school of thought that became known as the Earth School.
Once he completed his studies with Zhang Yuan-Su, Li Dong-Yuan became involved in managing his family’s property. After the decades of harsh Mongol conquests, he left home in Hubei to utilize his medical knowledge and training to treat the masses that were adversely affected by the unrest and upheaval of being a conquered region.
It was then that he began to deeply develop his thesis that the etiology of most diseases was a result of injury to the digestive system. The principle organs of the digestive system from a Chinese medical model are the Stomach and the Spleen, which are responsible for taking food and drink and transforming the raw material into energy (qi) for the body’s core functions. Li Dong-Yuan believed that the cause of damage to the stomach and spleen occurred as a result of three main factors: intemperance in eating and drinking (especially consumption of excess amounts of cold, raw, fatty or unclean foods), overwork which leads to exhaustion, and from the effects of excessive and habituated emotional expression — excessive emotions agitate the body and consequently weaken digestion.
When the conquered people were left powerless, poor and unable to access proper nutrition, opportunistic disease processes were able to also overcome and vanquish health physically, mentally and spiritually. This becomes the basis of the Earth School’s doctrine.
Weak digestion on a physical level leads to exhaustion and listlessness with loss of appetite, loose stools and visceral prolapse. On a mental level the organs of the stomach and spleen when distressed have lost the ability to problem solve and use intellect. There becomes a tendency to over-ruminate on the same subject without the ability to act on a resolution. This creates the concept of yin fire. Yin fire is the pathological state of habituated unresolved emotions that are unable to be expressed and manifested, which leads to a noxious feedback cycle culminating in repression and suppression of negative emotions.
Because these feelings have no outlet for expulsion from the mind or body, they become lodged internally. Over time, this leads to the generation of heat trapped in the body which further exhausts resources and causes further debility. We may recognize these states from a Western lens as syndromes of chronic inflammation or autoimmune responses.
Two of Li Dong-Yuan’s most important Chinese herbal formulas to treat digestive qi’s lack of strength and integrity along with the discharge of the injurious heat were Sheng Yang Yi Wei Tang (Yang Ascending and Stomach Nourishing Decoction) and Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang (Tonify the Center and Regulate the Qi Decoction). Both formulas include ginseng (Ren Shen), astragalus (Huang Qi), and white atractylodes (Bai Zhu) to strengthen the weakened person.
Another common feature is the use of bupleurum (chai hu) to ease emotional tension, allow unencumbered flow and to lift – holding the body’s structures in place. Historically, we are now at a turning point in the crafting of Chinese herbal formulas. Li Dong-Yuan is using a bi-directional strategy of both uplifting and rehabilitating the body’s resources while simultaneously draining out of the body injurious heat and dampness. He is also revolutionary in assigning directionality of herbs to ascend or descend when ingested and also creating a mapping of an herb’s proclivity to affect change certain organs and channels.
He also credited for the herbal formula Sheng Mai San (Pulse Generating Powder), which is still widely used in modern Chinese hospitals for cardiovascular cases, as well as Dang Gui Bu Xue Tang, which is a combination of astragalus (Huang Qi) and Dang Gui (in a ratio of 5:1), used to quickly and deeply nourish the qi and blood following extensive blood loss.
The addition of the Earth School’s ideas to Chinese Medicine helped to further incorporate the concept that exogenous pestilent factors were not the only etiology of disease – and that it was necessary to self cultivate to nurture and build health in order to maintain well-being. Li Dong-Yuan taught a way to live a proactively healthy life as well as a path to reclaim health when afflicted.
In the mad world of newer-better-faster-stronger, it’s important to take a minute and remember that all of the advances that we have—from iPhones and micro-computers to laser treatments and super drugs—evolved from earlier innovation. The foundations of modern medicine are no exception. Often the basics that new techniques are built upon trace back to systems laid out centuries ago and are still formidable in shaping new ideas and thoughts on disease treatment and prevention. Chinese medicine is arguably the oldest, continually practiced form of medicine in the world. There definitely is a reason these strategies have survived the test of time.
It’s become a pretty common practice to spend time on the internet diagnosing ourselves and thinking about treatment options. As more practitioners and patients move towards collaborative medicine and incorporate Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) into Western treatment plans, it’s not a bad idea to have a better understanding about the theories developed, the physiology around why it works, and the historical context that shaped the paradigm shift. Exploring the important contributions made by masters of Chinese medicine helps provide a better understanding of how medicine has evolved to where it is today. Never a bad thing to know where and why things started.
So, what and who shaped Traditional Chinese Medicine? Much and rightful attention is paid to the Han Dynasty (220 B.C. to 220 A.D.). The masters of Chinese medicine of this era included Hua T’o and Zhang Zhong Jing. This is when the most famous texts of Chinese medicine were published; these seminal texts include the Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders) and the Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescription from the Golden Cabinet). Chinese medical knowledge during the Han dynasty is expansive. Hua T’o is credited for self cultivation practices known as daoyin exercises as well as surgical and anesthesia protocols. Zhang Zhong Jing is recognized for the development of the Six Stages Theory. This theory is a model for the diagnosis and treatment of disease based on the progression of pathogens once they enter the body. This becomes a foundation for the practice of herbal internal medicine.
The historical time known as the Jin-Yuan period will be the focus of our of next four blog articles. The Jin-Yuan period covers the 13th and 14th centuries and is a catalyst for the development of great innovation in Chinese medicine.
From the Jin-Yuan era came the development of four distinct schools of thought, created by men who came to be known as the Four Great Masters of Chinese Medicine – Li Wan Su, Zhang Zi He, Li Dong Yuan, and Zhu Dan Xi. Their mastery of Chinese medicine coupled with their personal circumstances during the times they lived helped shape four distinct philosophies in the causation, prevention and elimination of disease. Their critiques of the classical canons and doctrine create new developments and ways of thinking thus expanding the medicine for more modern times and conditions. Their novel new approaches helped usher in a renaissance in Chinese medicine.
Women are more likely than men to have Raynaud’s disease and, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s more common in people who live in colder climates.
“Treatment” for Raynaud’s disease often consists of activities like layering clothing, wearing gloves and donning extra thick socks. Some patients take medications deigned to open up or widen their blood vessels and promote circulation.
Increasingly, I am seeing patients who are interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approaches to easing Raynaud’s disease. These treatment regimens are often focused on herbal formulas that warm, increase peripheral circulation and work on improving the integrity of qi and blood in the superficial channels. Depending on the Patient’s presentation we evaluate and use herbs such as astragulus (huang qi), aconite (fu zi), ginger (gan jiang), ligusticum (chuan xiong) and cinnamon (gui zhi) to ease the chill, move blood and reduce pain in their extremities.
Patients are also finding relief with acupuncture as it can increase blood flow and decrease pain. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine showed that acupuncture treatment decreased the symptoms or “attacks” of Raynaud’s disease by 63%.
Finally, avoiding too much caffeine, getting a good amount of exercise and eating a balanced diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can also help your body successfully combat Raynaud’s disease.
More information and helpful resources for Raynaud’s disease can be found here:
The mind-set, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has become an ingrained attitude of embracing decay in America. It is played out in our current political arenas, our values and in matters of personal growth and self care. As a result of our quest to tighten fiscal belts, our infrastructure is also experiencing malnourishment and neglect. This has been highlighted in numerous articles and recent studies, and has been the source of outrage and, often, despair once something finally surrenders in a cataclysmic manner (think bridge collapses, levy failures, government shutdowns).
This was discussed in an interesting and thought-provoking 2012 article from The Economist, “A Question of Trust”:
For decades America has underinvested in infrastructure—even though poor roads, delayed flights, crumbling bridges and inefficient buildings are an expensive burden. Deficiencies in roads, bridges and transport systems alone cost households and businesses nearly $130 billion in 2010, mostly because of higher running costs and travel delays. This filters through to all parts of the economy and increases costs at the point of use of many raw materials, and thereby reduces the productivity and competitiveness of American firms and their goods. Overall the American Society of Civil Engineers reckons that this underinvestment will end up costing each family in the country about $10,600 between 2010 and 2020.
I believe that – unfortunately – this attitude of neglect and purposeful ignorance is affecting the state of our country’s personal health. We live in a time where most of us are connected to the web, texting and email 24/7. We are also over-connected to information that really is inane, unnecessary and just a diversion. Our personal infrastructure is overburdened and overly taxed! We tend to devalue expenditure on our personal infrastructure. We prefer spending on the novelty and status of newer and faster stuff that binds us more intimately to the accelerated disintegration of our body’s finite resources, our emotional stability and our potential for spiritual fulfillment.
Further, we tend to only pay heed when symptoms have gone from intermittent to fixed, subtle to untenable. This is a level of minimal engagement that is truly very costly, filters through all parts of the economy, reduces productivity and aides and abets the breakdown of community. If we were to become just an iota more introspective, and listen to the internal inspection reports that are constantly emitting as “the state of our infrastructure” we could CHOOSE to engage our efforts and modest financial resources to rebuild and recover our true innate personhood.
The potential net gain is infinite, but how do we engage in this process?
No it doesn’t require a new type of sporting gear, a faster processor or more mega pixels. It isn’t achieved through V8 German horsepower or a mani and pedi.
It is far more exclusive, but accessible by all.
To quote Elmer Fudd, “Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet” and then check inside.
What is the state of your personal infrastructure?
If you are listening you might hear:
“I am anxious.”
“I am unhappy.”
“I am scared.”
“I am in pain.”
The next step is to disengage our familiar response toward the cry.
Challenge your automatic responses and habituations toward the predicament.
If you are tired, rather than reach for more caffeine, get more rest.
If you are discontented, rather than mindlessly eating more “comfort food,” sit and think about involving yourself in things that engender happiness and freedom of expression.
If something is hurting, stop ignoring it. Seek nurturing and expertise to understand and work toward corrective measures.
Most of the challenges we experience with our infrastructure come from the chronicity of ignoring our body’s own reports and cries for help.
Yes, there will come the day that our infrastructure can no longer withstand the neglect just like the day that the levees no longer could hold, despite the decades of countless warning. It’s the broken aspects of our situation that provide the richest opportunities for innovation and growth.
It isn’t necessary to suffer so intensely or be so outraged with the state of our infrastructure.
How can I be so certain of this? We all struggle with our mortality and the ebb and flow of emotional discontent, feeling powerless and pain. I think they call it “the human condition”. Try something new put yourself in the zone of reaching beyond your own resistance, if this doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to what you are doing now, no questions asked.
If we pay attention and give town-hall time to the inner self and it’s innate mission to survive, we can go way beyond the fundamental preservation skills of our lizard brain and really begin to have a symbiotic relationship with ourselves, our responsibilities and our commitments, This is how we tap into our infinite potential.
Dedicate yourself to a small amount of structured time and resources for the communion, I guarantee it WILL pay off.
Traditional Chinese Medicine to Reduce your Stress and Find your Rhythm
Those long, lazy days of summer are waning and crisper fall days are just around the corner. For many of us – parents, students, professionals – this means a return to our “normal” schedules of school, work and daily routines. This can also mean a return to stress and anxiety. So, how can you keep the relaxed vibe of the summer going into the fall?
Many of my patients make the conscious choice to really focus on reducing their stress this time of year. They try to be mindful of the anxiety that back-to-school and back-from-vacation can bring and they carve out time to rest, exercise and use Traditional Chinese Medicine to help.
For example, a recent Georgetown University study showed that acupuncture can help reduce the levels of proteins associated with chronic stress in rats and shed light on exactly how acupuncture works to reduce stress.
There are also numerous herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to promote balance and reduce stress:
- Chrysanthemum tea – this has been used for 1000s of years in Chinese medicine as a daily soothing tea; it also helps maintain a healthy liver.
- Suan Zao Ren (Sour Jujube seeds) – in TCM, these seeds are used to reduce irritability, stress and to help treat insomnia.
- Xiao Yao Wan – is a very popular Chinese herbal formula, Xiao Yao Wan promotes free flow, smooth emotions and overall balance.
There are other ways to help reduce your stress this time of year that are also key to the tenets of TCM and in promoting body balance:
Get outside – even if it’s just for a short walk after dinner, getting out into nature can revitalize your mind and body and help de-stress after a long day in the office, classroom or car.
Sleep – your body can’t function at its best without proper rest; make sure to get your 8 hours!
Appreciation and Gratitude – while this may be a busy time of year, it’s always a good time to take a moment to appreciate what you have, be mindful about your health and be cognizant of your loved ones and family.
Enjoy the fall!
Eczema – also sometimes referred to as dermatitis – is a common skin condition marked by an itchy red rash that can appear in skin folds around the knees, elbows or neck. Children commonly suffer from eczema, but studies have also shown the condition to be widespread in adults – with recent studies showing that up to 30% of the population suffers from eczema at some point in their lives.
The causes of eczema are not fully understood, but researchers and scientists believe that the condition is probably the result of a number of factors including genetics and the patient’s environment. Eczema is usually mild and causes itching and irritation, but in more severe forms, it can lead to pain and discomfort, can disrupt sleep and can limit daily activities. Traditional treatments for eczema include creams, ointments or corticosteroids and doctors often recommend that patients avoid soap, detergents or materials that could increase irritation.
Looking at eczema from a traditional Chinese Medicine perspective is a wholly different approach. While allergies and environment may be factors, Chinese Medicine also explores the role of the body’s overall health and balance (both physical and emotional). Ailments and illnesses occur when this balance is disturbed and skin conditions, rashes and irritations can be external symptoms of other health factors and problems like emotional stress, diet and fatigue.
So, to treat eczema, Chinese Medicine takes a more whole body / whole patient approach. I talk with my patients to learn more about their health and habits. Is there an underlying health problem or illness? A change in work or stress levels? An alteration in diet? Using this information I then develop a customized treatment regimen of herbs, acupuncture and even diet for each patient. Using this personalized approach to restoring overall balance, I have had success decreasing patients’ eczema, itching and irritation.
This approach has worked for others, as well, and more and more patients are turning to Chinese Medicine to help treat the underlying cause of their eczema. In fact, a study published in 2011 showed that acupuncture treatment helped reduce itch intensity for patients suffering from eczema.