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Chinese Medicine Can Be TCM

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Winter Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(4) pages: 32 to 33

Medical literature in China is old in age, rich in content, and can be speculative. There are items that were lost though later ones speak about them. Some were rich in content, all were valuable for health. The forefather of ancient Chinese philosophy is probably Fu Xi who mentions taiji as the ‘supreme ultimate’ who did figure things out including yin and yang as basic opposites. They are the basis of traditional Chinese medicine most often abbreviated as TCM. Its beliefs were and still are powered by relationships between these two forces; they guide traditional medical theory and its practices; and are still followed today.

People believe that Fu Xi accumulated enough knowledge about people, their organs and their relationships, understood medical differences between night and day, the four seasons, the sun and moon, how and where they travel, and much more. After him, additional Chinese medical advances give credit to Shen Nong who uncovered values of doses of different medicinal, most naming many of them, what they did to the body, and how he felt when he took specific herbs, animal, and mineral cures, and tried them on himself. We once read, and assume it true, that he died from the poisonous ones he tried on himself.

Many of these medicinal and some of their doses are recorded in his Shen Nong Herbal Classic, a three volume tome that includes two hundred fifty-two plant items, sixty-seven animal ones, and forty-six minerals in this first Chinese pharmacologic treatise researched and published in China. It includes his body’s reactions to them. Our notes tell us most were done during the Qin and Han Dynasties specifically from 221 - 27 BCE; however, we have no record of where we gleaned that; and if our memory is correct, these notions may have started in Neolithic times.

Acupuncture was of great interest then, and still is. It began using stone tools inserted at specific body points, and now uses fine needles at these very same places that follow the body’s meridians. They can be at different depths to unclog the flow of body fluids and ease their essences called ‘vital energies.’ They were and are referred to as jing, qi, or shen, and were mentioned in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.

More recently, we read and you can, too, in an 1984 article by Linda Koo in Social Science and Medicines Volume 18(9) on pages 757-766 that jing was ‘sexual’ energy, qi was ‘physical’ energy, and shen was ‘spiritual’ energy. All three were keys to good health and a person’s longevity. She says the Shen Nong was China’s first classic medical tome about disease prevention, well-being, the laws of nature, and the relationships between internal organs and external body parts. She said they were connected by meridians, also called collaterals, and cleared to improve the flows and did cure diseases associated with what were called the ‘four seasons’.

Moxi or moxibustion was another ancient therapeutic technique; it was and is the burning of Artemisia. This herbal was burned in or on incense-like cones or cigar-shaped sticks held just above the identical place where acupuncture needles were inserted. This was more popular many years ago, some though still is. It does depend on the degree of heat used, less for mild stimuli, more for more concentrated ones.

During Neolithic times and since, the Chinese spoke of metal, wood, water, fire, and air to explain how the universe came into being and how to manage it. These parts of their medical theories and practices are part of the Han Jing and often translated as The Classic on Medical Problems It was written before Eastern Han Dynasty times (25 - 220 CE) and does describe things a physician should know and do when consulting with his or her patients. They include observing, listening, smelling, asking, pulse feeling, and palpitation information. They deem these of importance when diagnosing a patient’s specific problem(s).

Other early publications of importance include the Classic of Mountains and Rivers published sometime between 475 - 221 BCE; it is about pharmacology, and discusses fifty-two herbal medicines, sixty-three of animal sources, and a few that are mineral ones. Much later, the Newly Revised Materia Medica was written; that was during Tang Dynasty times (618 - 907 CE) and included much text and many illustrations copied from earlier pharmacopeias. Later, before the 16th century CE, a Compendium of Materia Medica included all Chinese medicinal information, corrected past erroneous ones, and summarized knowledge including yin and yang and their relationships to bipolar forces.

It also contrasted, determined, complemented, and expanded on them and did detail yin as feminine, dark, cold, and passive, yang as masculine, light, and warm, and both energy the body needed to survive. It pointed out that if yang was damaged, there could be a lack of qi and a reduction of energy. If there was too much energy, then there could be an excess of the other force. And, if yin was impaired, the lack of enough blood could have a negative influence on quality, quantity, and other functions of the body and bodily fluids, specifically they could be reduced. Furthermore, it there was an abundance of yin, that might mean too much mucus, water, and/or fat accumulating in the body.

Heath foods and tonics were intricately woven into these Chinese philosophies including that soybean’s milk the Chinese made depended upon when the beans were soaked, ground, and/or strained, the skin of these beans having concentrated flavor and high amounts of protein, and more than the beans or curd was if they had or did not have skins included, an important item.

Overall, things were updated, health, food, and tonic properties advised and they needed observation and were to be followed. For example, they discussed yellow day lily needles as the dried flowers of Hemorocallis fulva that when wrinkled and twisted, were good food and good medicine. Now we know their iron content as ten times more than the same amount of spinach, that bitter melon botanically known as Momordica charantia, has lots of Vitamins A and B and can strengthen, cool, and help digesting proteins and fatty foods, and much more.

We know that lotus leaves, their stalks and fatty centers of the Nelumbo nucifera plant are mistakenly called roots and though not roots still are good nourishment preserving health and strength, promoting circulation and virility. We know that longan which is also known as dragon eyes are botanically called Nephelium longana and are effective as body and blood tonics to reduce fatigue, and shorten convalescence and anemia. Their iron content is higher than that of spinach, and can induce stamina and sleep, peripheral circulation, and also warm hands and feet.

There are other things the Chinese knew about purple laver that we botanically call Porphyra lacinata, and other sea vegetables. They knew how to use them to repair several bodily functions. We now know they are a rich source of phosphorus and calcium, that hair vegetable is Nostoc communte vauch and it has more calcium and iron than other seaweeds, and that sweet tangle or Laminaria Japonica can repair problems from goiter, high blood pressure, edema, and menstrual disorders.

They knew, and now we do that mo-er, more commonly known as wood or cloud ear fungi and botanically known as Auricularia judas grow on elm and willow trees and resemble gelatinous ears and are a fine tonic as they are high in protein, their white relatives high in calcium with less protein and iron than the black ones.

We also now know that black and white sesame seeds are rich in calcium, protein, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium and help keep a person healthy. They knew the universal tonic, Panax ginseng, was a fatigue reducer improving weakness, poor appetite, and weak metabolism that it tasted bitter but quickly turned sweet. It does so because it has lots of starch, and can lower blood sugar, impact hypoglycemia, and heart activity, and has a positive effect on the liver and kidneys.

Early Chinese ingested all of these for health as they did boxthorn, botanically known as Lycium chinense thanks to its high Vitamin C. They also consumed Polygonum multifiorun for their livers, kidneys, bone marrow, tendons, and bones, as it helped maintain good health and their youthfulness, too.

The Chinese used Sika deer antlers to regulate and accelerate cell metabolism, also heart and brain functions, and as a remedy for impotence. They used it to keep their hearts from failing and to reduce memory loss. These and other foods were used as medicines to help them feel and get better. Many of these medical beliefs are now validated by scientific studies that the Chinese figured out without them.

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