Philosophy of Chinese Medicine

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Lifestyle

 

 

Mind

Traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of one's mind in the pathogenesis of a variety of diseases. Many health problems may come from emotional changes. "Discussion of Pain" of Plain Questions, the most important medical work dating back to more than 2000 years ago, summarizes nine common causes of diseases. 2/3 of them are emotion related. It says: "Anger raises the Qi (energy), joy moderates the Qi, sadness reduces the Qi, fear descends the Qi, startle dissipates the Qi, and thinking stagnates the Qi." Modern people suffer multi-fold stresses from religion, relationship, financial situation, job, and the like. Those stresses will definitely disturb the physical functions of your body, e.g. break the balance of the Yin-Yang, stagnate the circulation of Qi and blood, weaken the normal energy, and enhance storage of toxicities in your body. Organic problems will follow the physical disorders. The solution is to have right ideas of life, control your emotion and greed. Keeping your life simple, natural, and peaceful might not eliminate stress but probably help you to minimize it, so that stress-related diseases will be significantly reduced. A peaceful mind is also a key element to help you recover from diseases.

 

Qi(Energy)

Qi is the vital energy of the human body that comes from three sources: congenital Essence, foods and water, and fresh air. The basic physiological functions of Qi include promoting, warming, defending, stabilizing, and transforming. The promoting function refers to supporting development and growth, the physiological functions of organs and meridians, and the circulation of blood and body fluids. The warming function refers to creating heat and maintaining a constant body temperature. The defending function refers to protecting the body from invasion by external pathogens. The stabilizing function refers to preventing the liquid substances (blood, sperm, and body fluids) from leaking. The transforming function means that various changes take place due to the movement of Qi, namely, the metabolism of the Essence, blood, body fluids and their mutual conversion. Since Qi plays a critical role in human life, to maintain sufficient qi becomes an extremely important matter for health preservation. Overwork, irregular diet, sexual indulgence, not enough sleep, and depression are the main factors that weaken Qi. Sometimes, a Qi-deficient patient can recover him or herself by adjusting the lifestyle - if not, acupuncture and herbal treatment are needed.

 

Balance

Traditional Chinese medicine is all about the art of balance. A perfect health means a perfect balance, including balance of Yin and Yang, and balance among the activities of internal organs. Fundamentally speaking, most diseases result from unbalanced Yin and Yang, such as weakness or abnormal predominance of Yin respetively Yang. Predominance of Yang for example can cause hyperthyroidism, hypertension, insomnia, hot flushes, short temper, thirst, and constipation, etc. In cases of Yin predominance, hypothyroidism, edema, fatigue, impotence, diarrhea, cold extremities, and prolapse of organs may result. During a treatment, the doctor just needs to examine which is predominant (accordingly the other one will be deficient), and then regulate Yin and Yang to restore equilibrium. In the clinical practice, the principle of regulating Yin and Yang is divided into two aspects: reducing what is abundant and reinforcing what is deficient.

 

Harmony

As a great idea in Chinese philosophy, harmony plays an important role in Chinese medicine. Harmony here has a double meaning: first, harmony between human life and natural environment and second, harmony between internal organs and tissues. The human body is a micro universe (小天地) which functions within a macro system. "Man lives by the Qi of heaven and earth, and grows according to the natural law of the four seasons." Our daily activities should be in conformity with nature. For instance, we should work at daytime and sleep at night. Moreover, we should add or reduce clothes according to the weather changes. Remebering that the day light is long in summer, short in winter, and medium in spring and fall, we should get up early and go to bed relatively late in summer; get up relatively late and go to bed early in winter; get up early and go to bed early in spring and fall. "Germination in spring, growth in summer, harvest in autumn, and storage in winter are the normal changes of the four seasons, and man also should comply with these changes." The climates of the four seasons correspond with functions of the five major organs: heart, liver, lungs, spleen, and kidneys. That is to say, the climates of the four seasons can nourish, promote, and adjust the functions of these organs. For example, liver-Qi corresponds with spring, heart-Qi corresponds with summer, lung-Qi corresponds with autumn, kidney-Qi corresponds with winter, and spleen-Qi corresponds with late summer. "If man can adjust to the climate changes of the four seasons, heaven and earth will become his parents. " "Adjust" here means adaptation and regulation. Internal harmony is equally important. Take heart and kidneys as an example, they need to have a harmonious relationship. Too much stress or too much sexual intercourse will break up this harmony and cause insomnia, frequent urination, or erectile dysfunction. Take liver and spleen as another example, when they harmoniously work together, one maintains a good digestion. In cases of angry, frustration, or over-thinking, the liver energy overacts on the spleen. Thus, poor appetite, indigestion, bloating, acid reflux, I.B.S., or even gastric ulcer, stomach bleeding, and irregular menstruation might result.

 

 

Circulation

Life is activity - and circulation. The body needs two basic things: energy and nutrition. Qi (energy) circulates constantly throughout the body along meridians and collaterals, and provides the energy to activate and warm the organs and tissues. Blood flows though the body through the blood vessels, to nourish the organs and tissues. They both need to circulate non-stop to fulfill their jobs. Qi-stagnation may lead to hypochondriac pain, chest pain, stomach pain, and anxiety, while blood stagnation may give rise to slow flow of blood, blood clot formation, or even hemorrhage, manifested as sharp pain. Since Qi or blood stagnation is a common cause of pain or other symptoms, promoting the circulation of Qi and blood removing stagnation become important therapeutic strategies.

 

Sleeping Habit

The human body is a micro system within a macrocosm. Therefore our daily activities should be in accordance with nature. We should work at daytime and sleep at night. Day light is long in summer, short in winter, and medium in spring and fall. Accordingly, we should get up early and go to bed relatively late in summer; get up relatively late and go to bed early in winter; get up early and go to bed early in spring and fall. Generally speaking, 6-8 am is the best time to get up. The large intestine is sensitive and functions best during 5-7 am. The stomach is sensitive and performs best during 7-9 am. Therefore, it is ideal to get up around 7 am to defecate, and then eat breakfast. 10-11 pm is the best time to go to sleep. The Yang-Qi (陽氣) of both the world and human body is the lowest during 10 pm and 4 am. Man should not have any activity but sleep in this period.

 

Diet

Question: Is eating meat or eating vegetables healthier?
Answer: Our diet should contain more vegetables than meat because the digestive system of human beings, including teeth, stomach and intestines, is closer to that of herbivorous animals than carnivorous ones. Consumption of too much meat is not healthy. Generally speaking, meats are hard to digest and warm in property. Overeating meats will cause internal heat, which gives rise to hypertension, hyperthyroidism, insomnia, acne, and hemorrhoids, etc. The unnecessary nutrition stays in the body and becomes phlegm and poison ( so called in TCM), which leads to high cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, allergy, constipation, colon cancer. However, pure vegetarian is equally unhealthy for the general public (unless you are in the special program such as Buddhist or Taoist training). Usually, vegetables are cool in property. If one eats vegetables and grains only, one will not produce/have enough Yang-Qi , which leads to fatigue, indigestion, anemia and irregular menstruation in females, and low sexual drive in males. In short: "Life is the art of balance."

Question: How should we eat three meals a day?
Answer: The three-meals-a-day are of different value - the Chinese idiom says: "Eat breakfast with the heaven people, eat lunch with friends, and eat supper with the ghosts". Breakfast should have the highest value among the three meals because stomach and spleen are sensitive and best function from 7 to 11 am. In conformity with the physiological law, breakfast allows you get twice the nutrition with half the effort. Frequently missing breakfast will cause low energy, gastritis, gastric ulcer, or even stomach bleeding. Lunch should be eaten between 12 pm and 1 pm because the small intestines, the main organs of absorbing the nutrition, are sensitive and best function between 1 and 3 pm. Supper should not be taken too late and too much. Contrary to the morning, your digestive function is declining in the evening. Big rich or late meal will cause incomplete digestion, and then the residual foods and nutrition turn into so called turbidity and poison, which lead to overweight, high cholesterol, insomnia and the like.

Question: What is the principle for patient’s diet?
Answer: During the recovery phase, nursing is equally important to treatment. Generally speaking, light food is recommended. A patient with fever should not eat rich, greasy food because the digesting function is very weak. Such rich, greasy food will not be well digested and becomes the source of the fever. Patients with heat syndrome, like acne, tonsillitis, mastitis, hemorrhoids, sores, and boils, should not eat hot spicy foods such as chili, pepper, and cinnamon. Nor should such a patient eat chocolate, peanuts or walnuts. Patients with gastritis and gastric ulcer should not eat cold food or drink cold beverages. Garlic damages the liver’s Yin and since the liver has a specific opening into the eyes, patients with myopia, glaucoma, and cataract should never eat garlic! Eating too much sugar will weaken the Qi and worsen many diseases, so especially those patients with hepatitis, arthritis, and diabetes should be careful in the consumption of sugar. Diabetic patients should also avoid eating crab, lobster, and shrimp.

 

Sexual Life

Question: Western people believe "the more sex you have, the healthier you will be." How does TCM think about that?
Answer: Modern people and western medicine exaggerate the positive effects of sex in regards to health and ignore the negative ones. It is important for adults to have a regular sex life to maintain health. Because Yin and Yang are inter-dependent, man and woman will get the opposite energy during intercourse so that their health will be inter-promoted. Besides, Qi strongly dissipates and flows during the orgasm, so that the stress and toxicities in the liver, gallbladder, and other organs, will be partially released. Without sexual life, the liver’s Qi will be stagnant and create heat. One may get depression, hyperactivity, moodiness, etc. However, going too far is as bad as not going enough (過猶不及). There is no free lunch. The price of all the positive things of sex is spending kidney-Essence (腎精) and kidney-Qi (腎氣). Excessive sexual activities will weaken the kidney’s energy and cause a variety of symptoms, such as lower back pain, sciatica, insomnia, fatigue, prostatitis, prostate enlargement, even low sexual drive, and UTI. We should respect and find the balance point between spending energy for happiness and saving energy for health.

Question: What is the healthy limit for sexual intercourse?
Answer: There is no absolute standard because everybody has a different constitution and health condition. Following is a general guideline for a healthy male: a 20 year-old boy should not have intercourse more than once a day; a man around age 25 should not have sex every day; a thirty year-old man can do it once every 5 days; once a week for a 40 year-old man; twice a month for a 50 year-old man; once a month for a 60 year-old man and several times a year for a 70 year-old man. The reason why the frequency should be decreased with age, is that the kidney Essence (腎精) and kidney-Qi (腎氣) of a male reach their peak around age 20, gradually declining afterward, and significantly after age 40.

 

Women after Giving Birth

Question: Why is frequent showering or showering right after parturition to be avoided?
Answer: The childbirth exhausts the mother’s Source-Qi (元氣) and blood. The immune system of the lying-in woman is very weak at this moment. Taking a hot shower will circulate blood and the energy flow, thus dissipate the qi, which will further weaken the Source-Qi. As a result, external pathogenic factors, such as wind, cold, and dampness will take advantage and attack the body, and cause fever, headache, and joint ache.

Question: Why shouldn’t the lying-in woman get into contact with anything cold after childbirth?
Answer: In American hospitals, if a lying-in woman asks for water, the nurse will probably bring her a glass of ice water; if a lying-in woman gets fever after childbirth, the nurse will put an ice pack on her forehead to reduce the fever. It is ironic and unbelievable that modern medical sciences are that much developed but still do not know that coldness is one of the most common pathogens. The childbirth exhausts the puerpera’s Source-Qi which is warm energy. Cold wind, cold water, and cold food, are "Yin-pathogenic" factors which damage the Yang-Qi, subsequently blocking blood circulation, deferring the recovery, and possibly causing a variety of diseases such as fever, arthritis, uterus fibroid tumor, ovarian cysts, migraine headaches, etc.

Question: Why should a woman take herbal medicine after childbirth?
Answer: Childbirth exhausts the female’s Source-Qi and blood. Not only does she need good nourishment to supply the necessary nutrition but also herbs to restore the Source-Qi and blood. Herbs will help the puerparent to restore her energy as well as her body shape. Secondly, the puerparent must take herbs to expel the "turbidities", coldness, and "bad blood" from the uterus. The postpartum period bears a high risk for women to get chronic diseases because the immune system is very weak after the childbirth. Taking the right herbs will prevent the young mother from various diseases. Finally, the postpartum period is also a rare chance for a woman to cure some chronic and stubborn diseases, such as arthritis, lower back pain, and migraine headaches. The organs and tissues are very sensitive in this period, and the whole body is in a state of recovery. Taking advantage of this opportunity, it is much easier and faster to cure some chronic diseases.

 

Child-Care

Question: Why should not give tonic herbs (補藥) to a healthy child?
Answer: Children are pure Yang-bodies (純陽之體), which refers to their vigorous energy and fast metabolism. Tonic herbs, such as ginseng and deer horn, are usually hot in property, which promotes the energy and fastens the metabolism that children do not need. This effect easily causes internal heat and damages the Yin (陰), and thus breaks the balance of Yin and Yang. Tonic herb abuse might casuse skin rash, nose bleeding, indigestion, hyperactivity, or even sexual precocity for children. Smart parents should not "try to help the shoots grow by pulling them upward" (揠苗助長). Every parent wants one’s child healthy and strong, but please let your child grow naturally!

Question: Why should children not sleep with their grandparents?
Answer: In modern society, many couples both have full time jobs to provide a future for the family. So often the grandparents take care of the children. Usually, there is no problem with children living with their grandparents. However, you should never allow your child to sleep with his/her grandparent regularly! The Yang-Qi (陽氣) of children is vigorous but tender and immature. If a child sleeps with his/her grandparent or any senior or any weak person too often, the Yang-Qi (陽氣) of the child will voluntarily transport to the weak adult. As a result, it damages the health of the child, but benefits the other.