Archive for the ‘Oriental Medicine’ 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.
At what point did the holidays’ stop being magical and start being a nerve wracking, demanding, and a hectic collection of weeks of the year? With decorations creeping into stores in October, it seems impossible to escape the end of the year without a being physically, emotionally and spiritually drained.
Why do we do it?
It’s easy to get caught up in the extra activities, expectations and demands that the holiday season brings. There is little or no time to relax and regroup before you’re whisked off to accomplish the next thing on your list. Thinking that you’ll be able to do it all without leaving any time to just be makes the holiday season ripe for stress, irritability, anxiety and depression.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help balance both the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety and help to create the harmony and spaciousness we need to keep calm and to feel stable in a sea of frenzy. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine helps keep the body, mind and spirit supple, flexible and buoyant. This generally manifests in the body as a sense of ease. If the season has already wreaked havoc on your personal integrity, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can release the physical knots and constriction as well as create a healing, safe and tranquil environment for you to settle in, decompress and recalibrate. This creates a potent foundation to build a healthier and more resourceful self (and sounds like a great New Year’s resolution!).
Incorporating a mindfulness meditation practice into your routine, especially during the holidays, is a very powerful tool to living informed and fully. Being mindful is the purposeful practice of making choices based on being in the moment, checking in and making decisions by being fully present rather than responding in a habituated way to events, people and situations. We can summon and reflect circumstances, feelings and choices rather than being enslaved to our automated and predictable reactions.
Even a few quiet, deep breaths practiced throughout the day will help you slow down the inertia of the holiday season and allow you to proactively and intentionally take your holidays back. It will give you a chance to remember what’s really important and what holiday celebrations are for.
Acupuncture, Chinese medicine and mindful meditation can definitely help to lead you to a more tranquil and meaningful holiday season – but don’t forget to acknowledge and feel gratitude. Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation and thankfulness for blessings or benefits we have received. As we cultivate a grateful attitude, we are more likely to be happy and resilient.
While controlling how our bodies react to stress is difficult, choosing healthy strategies and approaches can be a much more attainable and kind way to embrace “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
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.
Like modern practitioners, the great masters of Chinese medicine learned from and were influenced by each other’s work. They were not only coming up with original conclusions but were building and refining the work of previous practitioners to form expanded ideas.
Zhang Zi-He, also known as Zhang Cong Zheng, was a military physician who lived from 1156-1228 of the common era. He shared Liu Wan-Su’s belief that medicine needed to be tailored to patients and that medicines and strategies of the Han Dynasty canon were ill equipped to combat present-day illness. After serving in the military, he left to return to his home town in Henan Province to work as a doctor.
His best known theories incorporated some of Liu Wan-Su’s most important contributions to the Chinese Medical canon and are known as the “Gong Xia Pai,” or “The School of Attacking and Purging.” Specifically, Zi-He’s theory of the “Six Doors and Three Methods” referred directly to climatic influences (wind, summer heat, dampness, fire, dryness and cold) that Liu Wan-Su observed. The three methods refer to Zhang’s favored therapeutic regimens: sweating, vomiting and purging. These were not new strategies; Zhang Zhong-Jing, one of the most eminent Chinese physicians during the later years of the Han Dynasty, recorded the use of these approaches in the most studied book of Chinese medicine, the Shang Han Lun. The practice of diaphoresis, emesis and purgation are also documented by Sun Si-Miao, the patriarch and innovator of Tang Dynasty Chinese medicine.
Zhang Zi-He’s treatment strategies are very telling of his seasoned military strategist background. He believed that both life and disease should be treated like battle. Similar to a small fortress, you want to keep the external terrain strong so that disease cannot enter. In Chinese medicine this is the concept of strong Wei Qi. When our interface is strong, pathogens cannot penetrate.
Zhang was a neoconfucianist and a firm believer that pernicious influences entered the body from the heavens, the earth and through man’s actions. The evils of the heavens included the climate—wind, cold, heat, dryness and fire. Insults from the earth came as damp influences that included fog, dew, rain, hail, ice and mud. Man’s abuses centered on dietary intemperance and vices such as lack of discipline. He believed that these insults were responsible for causing disease and in order to effectively cure an ailment, the responsible influence needed to be eradicated – thus the induction of sweating, vomiting and purging.
He believed if you have problems in your life, you need to take charge to destroy the negative influence. Sweating eliminated the harmful evils on the body’s surface. Zhang Zi-He listed approximately forty herbs, many which are still used today such as Schizonepeta known as Jing Jie and Angelica Dahurica Bai Zhi. In addition to herbs, he advocated the use of hygienic practices that included moxabustion, acupuncture, massage, steaming, washing and exercising.
The category of emesis (induced vomiting) was prescribed for digestive illness in the upper gastric abdominal regions with therapies that in addition to vomiting increased salivation, lacrimation and sneezing. The most popular Chinese herbal emetics he recommended were Dichroa Root, also known as Chang Shan, and stalk of Cucumis Melo, known as Gua Di. His use of acupuncture included the activation of points which would mirror his herbal strategies. He used the upward ascension of the spleen to encourage vomiting. An acupuncture point like Spleen 8 “Di Ji,” which translates to mean “Earth Pivot,” was chosen because it could be activated to encourage vomiting. He believed that employing this strategy would quickly release an evil and restore health by purifying the patient.
He also used other acupuncture channels and points to encourage peristalsis through the bowels. Purging methods (laxative effect) treated climatic and emotional evils that when lodged in the chest or abdomen cause intense discomfort. This phenomenon is known in Chinese medicine as heat clumping. By breaking down and pushing the obstruction down and out, the pain is eliminated and healthy function is restored. Of the many purgatives he employed, several are still popular in the TCM Materia Medica such as Rhubarb, known as the Chinese herb Da Huang and the herb Croton Ba Dou.
Zhang Zi-He was a student of Liu Wan-Su’s Cooling School philosophical doctrine and expanded the use of sweating, purgation and vomiting to include more symptoms and clinical scenarios. Zhang Zi-He believed that there are a myriad of influences that can cause disease. He understood that to move difficult obstructions and obstacles in the body, one needed to initiate a treatment strategy of equal force and measure. He believed these treatment strategies to be hygienic and their use encouraged the refinement of the body, mind and spirit.
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: