Healing Principles: The Concept of Chinese Drugs
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a holistic approach when managing drugs. I call this the “macro correlation concept.” As opposed to Western medicine, TCM does not focus on listing every active ingredient a drug is composed of because there is an infinite amount of elements. Rather it looks at the following characteristics:
- The four properties: cool, cold, warm, and hot
- The five tastes (“flavours”): pungent, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty
- Actions: lifting, lowering, floating, and sinking.
- Channel tropism: Drugs can enter 12 different channels (some drugs enter only one energy channel, but some drugs can enter several).
- Toxicity: Some poisonous drugs have remarkable medical effects which can treat some obstinate diseases.
Various processing methods will also impact the chemistry of the active ingredients to deliver the correct healing effect. These include:
- Primary Processing
- Water Processing
- Fire Processing
- Fire and water processing (steaming the herbs, boiling the herbs, and scalding the herbs)
- Germination Processing
- Fermentation Processing
- Frostation Processing
The Application of Chinese Medicine
Chinese Medicine has evolved over thousands of years. It is great for health care and disease prevention. TCM helps with:
- Mutual Reinforcement
- Mutual Assistance
- Mutual Restraint
- Mutual detoxification (one herb can remove or lessen the toxicity and side effects of the others)
- Mutual Inhibition
- Incompatibility (when two drugs are used incompatibility, toxicity or side effects may result)
Some ingredients may be harmful and beneficial to humans as well as good for treatment, which includes:
- Incompatibility of drugs
- Contradictions for pregnancy
- Food taboo
Example: One of the benefits of Ephedra includes relieving the symptoms of asthma and diaphoresis. However, patients with lung Qi deficiency may exhibit negative exterior symptoms such as spontaneous sweating. In this case, the use of this drug should be prohibited.
Dosage of Drugs:
Some Chinese drugs are very drastic and/ or extremely poisonous. In general, the following aspects should be considered when determining the dosage of a drug:
- Drug character
- Compatibility and dosage form
- Condition of the disease(s), patterns, age of the patient
Decoction is a very common form of Chinese medicine. It is a liquid preparation of drugs with water, vinegar, wine or other liquids. Some rules needs to be followed:
- Some drugs should be dealt with individually.
- Tonics herbs should simmer for a long time up to one to three hours.
- Some Chinese medicine such as mineral or shells have active ingredients that cannot be extracted easily; they should be boiled for 15 minutes before mixing in with the remaining ingredients.
- Some aromatic drugs should be put it when the others drugs cook for only 3- 5 minutes.
- The decoction should not be turbid or irritating to the throat.
- Decoct separately.
- Infuse in warm, boiled, or finished decoction.
- It should be melted. Some of the gluey and sticky drugs have to dissolve.
Chinese medicine decoction is usually taken while it is warm, but decoction of drugs of cold property for heat syndromes can be taken cold. For vomiting patients, the decoction can be concentrated and given frequently in small amounts. Pills, bolus, and powder should be taken with warm boiled water if no special direction is given.
Scenario: A man who took “Red Radix Ginseng” felt very strong and also full of energy after the intake of these Oriental herbs. He then recommended it to John to take. However, after John took the Ginseng he had a headache and a very fast heartbeat. He went to the hospital and was told he suffered from a heart condition named “Tachycardia.” After that John approached me for consultation.
Outcome: According to TCM, there are different types of human bodies. In this example, John has an imbalance which is not recognized by western medicine. There are 28 basic types of pulses; when I checked John’s pulse, he had a “wire pulse” as well as a “rapid pulse.” These two pulses combined indicated that John had “internal heat” and “energy block” mixed together. The red ginseng is a powerful energy tonic, which can aggravate the internal heat and “internal block.” To explain this using western medical terminology, this is equivalent to saying that the red ginseng triggered a reaction in the vegetative nervous system. The overreaction of the sympathetic nerve system caused John’s blood pressure and the heart rate to increase. Some may wonder why certain people benefit from the intake of these herbs. My answer is when people have “pure Qi deficient syndrome that person cannot take this type of Qi tonic herbs.” The principle and the spirit of TCM diagnosis are based on “pattern identification.” Western medicine and Western herbalists did not have this concept until after the 1980s. Some scholars in North America and Europe in the Western medical world started to pay attention to this concept, especially when a patient is in a very acute condition. A good TCM doctor can save or extend that patient’s life or greatly improve the patient’s illness by using his or her knowledge of “pattern identification.” But this TCM doctor would really need a lot of clinical experience and insight, and every individual “TCM practitioner” is very different!
Story: I have a friend D. who trained as a Western Medical Doctor (M.D.) in China in the 1950s. He is a very good M.D., who also studied in England. He came to Toronto in the 1960s and was a professor who taught TCM at the Naturopath College in Ontario, Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. I know his true background is not a TCM doctor; he always got very angry when we discussed TCM theories. He had suffered from “essential high blood pressure” since he was 21 years old. One day, a female acupuncturist called me and asked me to join some of the alternative doctors in town for meeting. I had seen this type of meeting in California, USA back in the 1980s. The purpose of the meeting was to ask us to buy vitamins and herbal products from these pharmaceutical companies. Their motivation is to make money; I already told D. to be careful with these products.
I refused to participate in this meeting but D. went. They let him sit in the front because he is a famous alternative doctor in town. Before they sell the products they make you laugh, show the salesman’s family, and show the saleswoman’s PhD degree in Chemistry, the company’s research paper, etc. Finally, they start to sell their products.
One night, I received a call from D. who asked me to treat him. D. said to me that after the intake of this herbal product for a few weeks he could not see very well; his vision was very dark, and his heartbeat had increased. Later on, he called the company about the ingredients of this herbal product. The company said to D. that the herbal pills that he took contained a very high quality of 5 years Korean Red Ginseng. I designed an herbal formula of decoction for D. containing the magnetic powder and some other Chinese herbs.
He had to cook the magnetic powder for two hours prior to mixing it with the other herbs. Five days later, after the intake of 5 bags of herbal decoction, D. told me he felt better. His eyes had changed colours and his health had improved. D’s health is not the same anymore!
The Therapeutic Effects of Qigong
Throughout its whole history, qigong has been employed and developed as a method for curing illness and strengthening the body. Qigong's main therapeutic properties lie in its regulation of the activity of the cerebral cortex, the central nervous system, and the cardio-vascular system, its effect in correcting abnormal reactions of the organism, massaging effect on the organs of the abdominal cavity, and its effect as a means of self-control over the physical functions of one's body.
As far as electro-encephalogram response is concerned, there is clear difference in such readings between practitioners and non-practitioners. An electro-encephalogram for a normal person in an ordinary waking state shows a great quantity of low amplitude, high frequency waves of about fifty microvolts, with different regional brain waves showing poor synchronization. The brain waves of a qigong practitioner, however, shows large frequency "A" waves of around eight hertz with amplitudes as high as 180 micro volts, as well as a tendency towards greater synchronization of regional brain waves. These characteristics are even more apparent in the frontal lobe and parietal lobe of the cerebrum. Moreover, the frontal lobe is the highest centre of the C.N.S., controlling mental activity. The longer one practices the better the synchronization of the "A" wave band, while the expansion of the low frequency wave band can greatly increase the functions of the cerebrum.
When one is practicing, the rate of respiration decreases while the duration of each breath increases. Such an increase in the period of inhalation and exhalation will enlarge the scope of the diaphragm's activity, causing a greater flow in the volume of air, increasing the practitioner's lung capacity. When one is practicing deep breathing, the breath often seems to stop, but actually becomes a series of micro-movements of the breathing muscles. Animal experiments have shown that the increased excitation of the C.N.S. when exhaling can spread to the parasympathetic nerve centre, while the increased excitation when inhaling can spread to the sympathetic nerve centre. This would suggest that through deliberate regulation of the respiration and deeper breathing one can promote the tendency to stabilize any functional imbalance of the autonomic nerve system.
When practicing sitting or lying qigong it has been shown that the body's consumption of oxygen decreases by about thirty percent, the level of the metabolic rate also dropping by about twenty percent, which is accompanied by a drop in the respiration rate as already mentioned. This condition of lowered metabolism is an aid to reducing the patient's physical consumption of energy, allowing the gradual accumulation of energy, fostering the body's strength, and providing the basis for the body to combat and defeat illness.
Self-Control and Bio-Feedback
When qigong and bio-feedback are combined, the aim of developing health through self-control becomes considerably easy to achieve. Bio-feedback is the monitoring of certain physiological functions (blood pressure, muscle tension, etc.) using electromyographic equipment, demo meters etc., and then allowing the patient to sense, visually or audibly, the fluctuations in signals. This enables patients to appreciate what is happening in the body and use their own will to try to control the fluctuations of his or her physiological functions, helping them to revert to normality and hence aiding in their treatment.
It has been readily shown that abdominal breathing has the effect of massaging the internal organs of the abdominal cavity. This effect is even more marked when practicing the "stopping" or "reversed" breathing methods. During practice gastric secretion also increases, hence improving digestion. The range of the abdominal and diaphragmatic muscular activity may increase by up to three or four times, and the resulting periodic fluctuation of pressure in the abdomen will massage the stomach, intestines, liver, spleen, and other internal organs. This will promote peristalsis in the stomach and intestines, reduce blood stasis in the abdominal cavity, and improve regulation of internal secretions, further helping to improve digestion and assimilation. As a result, appetite is likely to improve, enabling patients to eat more, a great help in the process of treatment of many ailments.
The Circulation System
Blood vessel activity during practice depends on which form one is practicing. During the practice of "internal cultivation" and "relaxation and quiet" qigong, blood vessels in the hands manifest expansion in over half of the subjects, this being more marked in the case of the latter style, whilst blood vessel contraction sometimes appears in practitioners of "standing pole" qigong. In experienced practitioners, however, transition of the blood vessels remains relatively stable. In those who inhale longer than they exhale, an increase in cardiac output is registered, while a decrease is registered in those who exhale longer than they inhale. This is the result of the influence of the respiratory centre on the cardiac-vagal centre and heart rate. However, tests on practitioners of both "internal cultivation" and "relaxation and quiet" qigong register a general drop in heart rate. A clear lowering of blood pressure also appears in those who persist in daily practice.
All in all, we can see that the most important effects of practice are that it lessens the intrusions of emotions, allowing the body to reach a state of high physiological and bio-chemical efficiency through greater relaxation and concentration. Furthermore, the relaxation, contemplation, and breathing aspects of qigong can enable the cerebral cortex to prepare to meet any urgent need, provide advantageous conditions for the organism's rest, recuperation and regulating functions, and through gradual adjustment reduce the overall consumption of energy and increase the body's ability to resist illness.