The Symbol for
Yin and Yang
The Chinese Medicine Five Elements Diagram.
The five elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water
The Theory of Chinese Medicine
Intrinsic to many forms of alternative
medicine is an implicit interconnectedness. Almost any kind of pain
is seen as related to some other aspect of the patient's life or body.
What appear to Western medicine as separate problems turn out, in Chinese
Medicine, to be part of a single pattern. In the following we explain
some of the more important parts of Traditional Chinese Medical theory.
Meridians of Acupuncture
Zang-fu organ energies
Causes of Disease - Internal and External
Yin and Yang
Although the basic idea is simple,
understanding the ramifications of Yin and Yang is not so easy. Basically,
Yin is something that is moved or heated, and Yang is the force or
energetic means that moves or heats it. In us, yin is the body, yang
the life in it. When we are formed, the two come together. They part
when we die.
Yin and Yang mean something only
in relation to each other, in the same way we say something is hot:
the freezing point of water may be cold to most of us, but is warm
to a penguin in the Antarctic winter. In our bodies, the parts that
are more stable, that last longer, that are more hard to the touch,
are generally more Yin in nature - for example our bones, as compared
with those parts that are more quickly changed, such as the skin. Between
these two extremes lie the muscles, organs, nerves, circulatory vessels,
our brain and spinal tissue, and so on. Our blood is much more yang
in nature than our bones, because it moves all the time around within
In another way, the upper parts
of our body are defined as being more yang, because although our legs
carry us around, we do more constant movement with our hands and minds.
Equally, from this logic, being further away from the Earth, which
is relatively Yin, our heads and the upper portions of our bodies are
nearer the sky - the Heavens - which is Yang in nature. Also, warm
air rises towards the yang, whereas cold air sinks towards the earth
(yin). Consequently cold is more yin, as compared with heat, which
is more yang.
In good health, yin and yang work
together, neither being uppermost: they interact to each other's benefit.
When we work, the intention is yang, and what does the work is yin,
the body. Nowadays, in modern Western society, much work is done sitting,
using the mind and the hands and the voice. These are relatively yang
activities, at least compared with manual work such as making beds,
or lifting, carrying, digging, pulling, pushing, hoeing etc. Illness
can arise from many causes. One of them is overuse of any particular
activity. Modern office work that stops us moving and makes us use
only one part of our bodies can easily lead to illness, because health
is maintained when energy flows around and between the different parts
Office workers often suffer from
tension, caused by a build-up of Yang. This affects our more Yang areas,
being the upper part of the body, the head (headaches), the neck and
shoulders (tight), the chest (breathing, respiration and circulation)
all of which can trap Yang as tension. Conversely, those who sit too
much end up with congestion and heaviness in the lower part of the
body: hemorrhoid, sore back, varicose veins, painful periods and so
on, which are often due to yin energy not being moved around by yang.
Those who spend all their time
working with computer or television screens are using up the energy
needed by their eyes. The TCM attitude to this is that the yin-like
nutritional energy for their eyes, (technically called 'Liver Blood'),
gets depleted, leading to either tiredness (lack of qi) or inflammation
(excess of yang because of too little yin) or both. Why would one person
get tired and another get an inflammation? This usually depends on
the intensity with which they work, the brightness of the light, and
their basic health. A robust person tends to get inflammation, a more
depleted person gets tired, unless the latter is deficient in Yin,
in which case they might get inflammation (= yang, because of deficient
We didn't say this was easy!
Find out More about Yin and Yang on our other site
Click on http://www.acupuncture-points.org/yin-and-yang.html
So TCM practitioners spend part
of the interview discovering, amongst other things, in what ratio of
yin, yang, qi and blood the patient's health consists of. Simplifying,
problems at the top of the body are more likely to be yang or yang
excess in nature: those down below are more yin or yin-excess in nature.
Meridians, Channels and Collaterals,
You may have heard of acupuncture
meridians or channels, which appear to traverse the surface of the
body. Not only do they extend from end to end of the body, inside and
out, they link with one another at different sites, with minor meridians
running off the main ones. These are the channels and collaterals.
They are distinct from nerves, lymph and blood vessels; almost a separate
network. There are grounds for believing that they really do exist,
although laboratory proof has been difficult. (But nobody had any idea
of electricity before the means were found to measure it, and the TCM
theory is that these channels, or meridians, are pathways for energy.)
The location where pain occurs
lies on one or more meridians of the body. Pain happens where there
is either too much, too little, or the wrong kind of energy, although
the problem may not necessarily be at the place where the pain is felt.
On which meridian the pain lies can be very important when it comes
to diagnosis and treatment.
Acupuncture points lie all over
the body: some of them are identical to trigger points identified more
recently, but many lie along acupuncture meridians. Many acupuncture
points treat not only points along the meridian but also affect the
way the body works, and can affect our state of mind, as well as our
energy, and the pain we feel.
Acupuncture needles are used in
acupuncture. Acupuncture needles are smaller than hypodermic needles,
and unlike hypodermic needles, they are solid, but flexible, and thinner.
We use each needle only once, after which it is destroyed. When an
acupuncture point has been selected for treatment, the needle is inserted
very swiftly through the skin with - for most people - a minimum of
Find out More about Meridians on our other site
Click on http://www.acupuncture-points.org/acupuncture-meridians.html
Once inserted, the needle then 'meets' the
energy of the body. A sensation is felt, which varies from being heavy,
dull, slightly cramping or bruised, to a mild electrical feeling. Don't
be concerned if this is not the feeling you get! People differ! Some
people feel nothing!
These sensations, depending upon
what the acupuncturist intends, may be transmitted along the meridian,
or used to affect the energy in the meridian or in your body.
De Qi means 'the qi grabs' the
needle. Your acupuncturist often notices this before you do, and may
ask whether you notice anything. In nearly all treatments with acupuncture
in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this sensation is important.
Blood and Qi
If Yin and Yang are two theoretical
poles of existence, Blood and Qi are the life between them. We can't
see Yin or Yang, but we know what blood is, and we can see life in
people. Blood and Qi are words used technically and they describe rather
more than just the red stuff in our veins, and the party spirit at
Defining Qi should be easy, but
isn't. It is easier to talk about its deficiency or about what happens
when it misbehaves.
Qi deficiency is tiredness and underfunction:
some part or parts of the body fail to do their job. The usual signs
of Qi deficiency include a low or weak voice that runs out of breath
easily, sweating when there is no obvious reason for it, tiredness,
runny stools, and lack of appetite. There are many more specific signs
of Qi deficiency, however. For example, if Lung qi isn't working properly
we are short of breath, pale, weak voiced, and often catch colds. If
Stomach qi under-performs, we lose our appetite, can't taste food properly,
feel full too quickly when we eat, get runny or loose stools, and feel
weak especially in the morning. Both of these qi deficiencies can lead
to general tiredness. When the Heart is Qi deficient, we get palpitations
too: each of the Zang-fu has its own picture when Qi deficient.
Qi can also 'sink', which usually means we
get a heavy, dragging, or bearing down sensation, and can bring prolapse
of an organ, with depressed spirits. Qi can also 'stagnate' see below.
It can even 'rebel', which means move in an undesirable direction.
For example, if we vomit, stomach qi, which should be taking food downwards,
is rebelling and ascending, instead of descending.
An important cause of many diseases is Qi stagnation.
Indeed, one of the greatest of Chinese Doctors (Dr Zhu Dan Xi 1380AD)
said that 'All the 10,000 diseases begin with stagnation of Qi'. What
he meant was stuckness and stagnation. (Interestingly, a basic premise
in Homeopathy is that underlying all disease is Psora, which equates
fairly closely with what Zhu Dan XI meant.) Qi stagnation can come
from Qi deficiency - which can itself lead to feeling low emotionally,
but also from emotional causes.
Acupuncture automatically moves
Qi, whereas Chinese Herbs don't: we may need to add other herbs to
a herbal formula to make the Qi move. This is one reason why Chinese
herbal formulae are made up of many herbs, carefully balanced, to achieve
the right effect. Taking just one herb you have heard about may not
be a good idea.
When Qi stops moving, life cannot
get on, and things build up. A frequent indication of this is abdominal
discomfort and bloating; 'bulges' that move around - often due to flatulence.
The area feels distended. Or lumps in the breasts or abdomen that feel
soft and which move around or come and go. Many cases of what used
to be called spastic colon, now more often attributed to 'irritable
bowel disease' are at least in part due to Qi stagnation. The main
sensation is that of distension, congestion, sometimes swelling, and
this comes and goes, or moves around. Accompanying it there is usually
frustration, depression, irritability, sadness, boredom, stress, and
almost any kind of emotional problem that hangs around too long, with
mood swings from time to time.
Qi stagnation occurs before periods
in many women's lives.
If Qi flows properly and smoothly,
all parts of the body receive what they need, they function harmoniously
and within their limits, and there is no room for disease.
Over time, continuous Qi stagnation
can lead to Blood stagnation (see below), which becomes more painful,
with stabbing stitching pains, and can be more serious: the sensation
doesn't move around and there is less of a feeling of distension. This
can lead to polyps, varicose veins, tumours, piles, blood clots and
so on. These can affect many parts of the body, including the lungs,
intestines, heart, brain, limbs, and abdomen. Chinese medicine has
developed some very effective strategies for dealing with stagnation
of Qi and of Blood.
Causes of Qi stagnation
Emotions that have either over-run their natural
course, or been too strong, or have been repressed, are the most common
causes in our society in the West: anger, grief, fear, frustration,
boredom, worry, and so on - they can all bind our Qi.
Other causes of Qi stagnation
include external pathogenic factors like the wind, damp and cold; physical
trauma, shock, surgery; an irregular diet or a diet that is too cold
in energy - perhaps too much raw or cold/chilled food or drink for
our given constitution; food stagnation from over-eating or eating
the wrong foods; and not moving our bodies - sheer lack of exercise.
Qi stagnation can come from Qi deficiency which acts like a river either
suffering from drought - the flow is sluggish, muddy pools appear and
disease builds up in the stagnant water - or silted up.
Qi is frequently affected at the
onset of many diseases, and Qi stagnation often accompanies disease
if it isn't the cause. Ensuring that Qi moves steadily and harmoniously
is a prerequisite for successful treatment, and whereas acupuncture
nearly always moves Qi by its very nature, herbal formulae often need
moving herbs to ensure that the Qi keeps moving.
Causes of Qi Deficiency
How do we become Qi deficient? Apart from inherited
tendencies, we can bring Qi deficiency on ourselves by various means:
over-study, over-thinking, too much time spent sitting thinking or
concentrating (eg. at a computer); poor diet and what is called an
'irregular' lifestyle, meaning burning the candle both ends and doing
everything our grandmothers disapprove of.
Can we have too much Qi? We certainly can!
If you take Qi tonic herbs such as Chinese Ginseng for too long, or
perhaps without other moderating herbs to balance the formula, you
can end up feeling jittery, over anxious, and with sudden palpitations
and nosebleeds (because the Qi propels the blood out of the blood-vessels).
Excess Qi improves by taking exercise. Deficient Qi deteriorates as
you take exercise, or later in the day, but is better in the morning
after a good sleep: the opposite of excess Qi.
Every part of the body has qi. No part could
exist without this life-energy, and Blood is actually another form
of qi, just thicker than the 'qi-stuff' that gives us vitality and
life. Blood is the mother energy in the body: it makes muscles, bones,
brain, tissue and all the rest. It provides a resting place for the
Indeed, the Chinese say that whereas
Qi leads the Blood, Blood is the mother of Qi.
So they use the term Blood in
a different way from Western Medicine. From the Chinese point of view
what we call blood is just a red liquid, unless it has Qi, when it
How does the red stuff become
Blood? The beginning of the process depends on good Stomach Qi to feel
hungry, eat, swallow and digest the right food and liquids, transforming
them into the red stuff, first stage. This ascends to the Lungs, which
move it towards the Heart, giving it energy. But it is only in the
Heart that it becomes Blood. Hence the saying in TCM that the 'Heart
governs Blood'. The main function of the Blood is to nourish the body,
to moisten it and to provide a place for the Mind to dwell and thrive.
that describe the actions of Blood include stability, suppleness, good
texture, resourcefulness, and good complexion. There are four kinds of
When Blood-deficient, we get pallor, dryness,
cracking of joints or nails, uneasiness, irritability, restlessness,
poor memory and concentration, falling hair, depression, insomnia,
poor sight or tired eyes, impotence or scanty periods and infertility,
not to mention dizziness and numbness. (Not necessarily all together!
However, some of these problems can occur from other causes in TCM
too.) And that is only for starters. Blood deficiency occurs when the
Spleen energy is deficient, meaning that our digestion fails to ingest
the right food and turn it into blood.
Many diseases are caused by an
imbalance between Qi and Blood, or a problem in one or the other. The
causes of disease are many and various, and we have listed some of
them under Causes of Disease.
Sometimes the problem comes
from one of the underlying zang-fu organs failing to function, or from
one of the energy reservoirs controlled by the extra meridians working
inefficiently. Or Blood may become a cause of disease itself, because
of deficiency, heat, or what is called stagnation.
Blood Heat frequently comes out as skin disease
or bleeding with a sensation of heat. Blood stagnation usually occurs
with a dark or purple complexion or eruption, and with the buildup
of tumour-like masses. Pain associated with this is usually fixed in
position and can stab or stitch. But Blood stagnation often occurs
because Qi lets it or makes it stagnate.
When Blood stagnates, it is said to move more
slowly, and so it becomes darker, we look darker, our lips and nails
go darker, our menses are darker, with dark blood clots, and we find
lumps under our skin, for example in the abdomen, that are impossible
to move. The kind of pain we get is stabbing or boring.
Loss of Blood
Any diseased condition that leads to bleeding,
like coughing up blood, hemorrhoids, vomiting blood, heavy or prolonged
blood, produces loss of Blood, the symptoms of which are given above
under Blood Deficiency. The reason for having this as a separate category
is that it has various causes, and to treat it you need to know which
kind of Blood Loss you are treating: whether it comes from deficiency
or excess, stagnation of Blood or even Yin deficiency.
Many diseases are explicable in terms of blood syndromes. When the correct
action is applied to improve the condition of the Blood, the disease disappears.
Zang-fu - Internal Organs of the body
Whereas Western, Orthodox, medicine sees internal
organs such as the heart, kidneys, stomach etc as discrete, occupying
anatomically precise locations, Traditional Chinese Medicine sees each
Internal Organ as not only the organ itself but also as a range of
other factors, such as emotion, colour, faculty, climate, taste and
so on. This makes no sense to Western Medicine, but these associations
have been verified by observant doctors for thousands of years. In
the same way that a Western Doctor might diagnose diabetes from several
factors such as polyuria, thirst and debility, a practitioner of Chinese
Medicine sees the influence of a particular Zang-fu from the relationship
of its presenting symptoms.
There are five Zang and six Fu.
The five zang are the Heart, Spleen,
Lungs, Kidneys, and Liver, also known as the solid organs.
The six Fu are the Small Intestine, the Stomach, the Large Intestine, the Bladder
and the Gall-Bladder, also known as the hollow organs.
Whereas the hollow organs, the fu, merely store and transport energy, the solid
organs, or zang, transform it. The Zang organs are said to be or prime importance.
Each zang has a related fu organ, to which problems in the paired zang can
Each zang has an important role
to play in health.
The Heart zang governs Xue or
The Spleen zang governs the transforming of food into Blood and Qi, holds the
Blood, and has influence over body fluids.
The Lung zang control or govern Qi, but also influence the fluids of the body.
The Kidney zang store Life Essence and also influence body fluids.
The Liver zang stores the Blood and keeps qi flowing smoothly.
Each Zang has a special relationship
with one of the sense organs, and with a different body tissue, emotion
and weather or climate, and so on. To understand how this works, consider
that if you know someone whose main emotional personality is one of
over-concern, and/or over-sympathy for others, who has a more than
usual desire for sweet foods, who worries a lot, and whose energy perhaps
dips during the morning, then probably you have someone whose Spleen
and Stomach zang-fu organs are out of balance. He or she will perhaps
have digestive and weight problems.
Someone trained to look for these
correspondences can often make predictions about health from a few
moments with the person concerned.
These correspondences have been
arranged into what has become known as the Five Element Diagram. It
shows how the different phases or elements inter-react, and makes suggestions
for treating people with imbalances. This 'Five Element' system of
treating people has been very successful, and a number of Acupuncture
Schools emphasise it.
There are, however, a number of
other ways of classifying and treating disease, and one of the most
important is the system of Eight Principles.
Whereas the Five Element system
explains some of the correspondences which turn up again and again,
the Eight Principles system looks more at the overall energy of the
body-system and where there are excesses or deficiencies. (For some
reason this is always called the Eight Principles but in fact there
are really only four!)
Every treatment ultimately aims
to balance Yin and Yang, so that the patient becomes symptom-free.
This means strengthening where there is deficiency, and dispersing
excess. In reading through the following, bear in mind that any situation
will be a combination of all 8 principles. For example, a disease may
be classified as a full-exterior-cold-yang condition, and another might
be a deficient-interior-hot-yin condition.
Disease patterns are either full or empty.
A full disease is experienced as being one without sweat, but with
severe pain or aches. Here the body is fighting hard to keep the disease
at bay. There may or may not be heat or cold. An empty pattern is experienced
with sweating and relatively less severe pain (though pain is subjective!)
fullness and emptiness relate to the body's ability to defend itself,
and to the source of the pathogenic factor. If someone has good vitality
and the source of the illness is external, such as when catching a
cold, it is a full pattern. Conversely if the individual has poor health
or weak vitality, the condition will be empty. If someone with weak
vitality catches a cold, then there will be a situation combining both
emptiness on the interior with fullness on the exterior.
This may seem like playing
with words, but it is extremely important to distinguish full from empty.
If, using TCM, one strengthens a full condition, the person will get
worse, the disease will remain longer, and may penetrate deeper. If
one disperses an already empty condition, the patient will also get
worse, and may take much longer to get better than he would have otherwise,
because the effect of dispersing energy in an already empty condition
is to make his health weaker and less able to defend itself.
In a combined
emptiness and fullness condition, care must be taken to clear the fullness
and strengthen the emptiness, in that order.
The question this poses is whether the location
of the problem is on the exterior (skin, muscles and channels) or interior
(eg. Zang-fu internal organs). Confusingly, you
often get an interior pattern disease affecting the outside of the
body, as for example in chronic skin disease such as eczema, which
is not cured by external applications. But an Exterior pattern of disease,
one that comes from an external pathogenic factor like catching a cold,
often leads to shivering, with hot and cold sensations and usually
comes on quickly. Other kinds of exterior disease pattern can take
longer to develop, as they penetrate along the channels. One example
is of someone who gets caught in the rain and over the next few days
becomes stiff. Here the channels are becoming obstructed as the external
pathogenic - the damp - factor pushes further into the body along the
channels, or meridians, of acupuncture.
This can, if untreated, or if
wrongly treated to remove the symptom but not the disease, become an
interior disease. Indeed, the wrong treatment (usually with Western
Medicine, but sometimes when incorrectly treated by a practitioner
of TCM) suppresses the body's natural means to externalise the disease,
and can lead to long-term and chronic problems.
The usual symptoms of
an Exterior disease are when the symptoms arrive fairly quickly (an 'acute'
disease), with a fever or chill, aches and pains, stiffness, and dislike
of cold. Other symptoms depend on whether it is combined with Hot or
Cold (see next section).
Usually the correct treatment
markedly and quickly improves the condition. On the whole, exterior
disease is easy to treat, although with acupuncture a number of treatments
in quick succession may be necessary. Herbs work well, too.
problems mean that one or more of the zang-fu organs are affected. Most
treatments experienced by patients of TCM in the West are for Interior
problems, simply because patients don't seek help early enough and are
not aware of how fast alternative therapies such as TCM can benefit Exterior
disease. Unfortunately, self-medication with analgesics and anti-inflammatories
often prolongs External disease.
The symptoms of interior zang-fu
imbalance depend on the particular zang or fu and the nature of the
problem. Whole books have been written on the combinations for a single
zang, and we can't afford the time to write a website big enough to
cover all this! Do look at the bibliography,
These may seem self-explanatory, but complications
arise depending on whether the condition is full or empty, interior
or exterior. For example, many menopausal women experience heat flashes,
of 'flushes', which can be extremely uncomfortable, embarrassing and
debilitating. The flash can come with flushing and with sweating. You
would think this was pretty definitely an exterior full condition.
Wrong. Almost certainly it is a deficient internal condition! It just
happens that the body disperses the heat on the outside, but its cause
is a deficient reaction by one or more of the zang-fu, usually the
Kidney, Liver or Heart, which are on the interior.
Even more confusingly,
it is possible to have heat in the interior and cold on the exterior!
Or vice versa. Recognising and distinguishing these different classifications
Causes of Disease
TCM breaks these down into
Habit and food
Trauma, parasite, poison
Internal - emotions
External - weather
of ill-health include inherited conditions, problems arising during
pregnancy or childbirth, and a state of health that mirrors what we
might call poor genes. Often much can be done to palliate and improve
these conditions, but cure is not always possible. Prolonged illness
or a series of illnesses, or a severe illness, or other 'insults' to
the body or mind, weaken the constitution. (By 'insults' to the body
or mind, we mean - for example - frequent drug-taking, or long periods
of heavy medication, and other forms of self-abuse.)
Habit and Food
Non-conducive habits include
overwork, over-worry, overstrain (mental or physical), fatigue, excessive
or deficient physical exercise, prolonged or excessive sexual activity,
or having too many pregnancies or abortions or children.
food habits mean not just poor quality or contaminated food (contaminated
by poisons, colours, preservatives, chemicals, antibiotics, steroids,
fungicides, pesticides or non-food stuff), but food that isn't fresh
or that doesn't suit you. Only during the last hundred years have we
really been subjected to food that isn't organic, and now many foods
owe as much to the chemist as they do to the farmer. The disadvantage
of chemically boosted food is that it may not contain the nutritional
qualities which our manipulated taste-buds expect of it, and it may
contain new substances which have not been tested over generations
for safety, and some of which affect us adversely. In trying to eat
a good diet from the Chinese viewpoint, it is easier to take fresh,
To find out which foods don't
suit, you need to know what your health is doing. In acute disease, Hahnemann
(the originator of homeopathy -
see separately on this website) suggested that, broadly speaking, you
should eat whatever you desire - not what you think, or someone else
thinks, is good for you. This does not include medication: we are talking
But in chronic disease you can definitely improve
your health or chances for better health by eating those foods that
balance your constitution. First, therefore, you need to know what
your constitution is, and for this you probably need to see a practitioner
of Chinese Medicine who knows what she or he is talking about. Otherwise,
you have a fair bit of reading to do. See the reading list.
you need to know what a food does, since food, from the Chinese point
of view, has qualities that go beyond mere vitamins, minerals, protein,
carbohydrate and oil. A given food can be warming or cooling, better
for blood than qi, dampening, neutral and so on. The Chinese have spent
quite a few thousand years working out which does what, and you can
make yourself ill if you persistently eat those foods which are unsuitable
for your constitution. But they didn't know or think about the intensive
farming methods now used, the massive investment in chemical fertilisers
and so on. Consequently, the energetic qualities they attributed to
foods may not apply to non-organic modern foods or to foods not grown
or prepared according to stable, traditional methods.
Other bad food habits include eating at irregular
times, or when stressed or rushed or otherwise busy, or eating too
fast, not chewing properly, over-eating or eating too frequently, gulping
food, or taking food that isn't properly prepared or at the correct
temperature. It also includes eating too much food of one type or taste,
or excluding certain foodstuffs that you need.
Food is a big subject
and there is no doubt that poor food habits contribute to ill-health
and lowered immunity to disease. Conversely, eating the right foods can
produce staggeringly beneficial results. Our bodies have wonderful health-creating
powers, given the right circumstances.
One word of caution concerning raw foods!
Chinese medicine recommends that, particularly during disease, food
and liquid be taken lightly or appropriately cooked, and warm. This
makes is easier to digest and puts less of a load on your system. There
are exceptions, but they are rare. Even when healthy, unless you know
for sure what your constitution requires, it is better to err on the
side of caution, and to take things warm.
Trauma, accident, burn,
fall, injury and operation
All these upset the flow of qi in our bodies.
Severe trauma also stagnates the movement of blood, and the long-term
effects can be dire. Many illnesses can be traced back to an accident
or to an operation which, although successful from the surgical point
of view, caused some form of stasis in the system, the results of which
are felt for many years and which, by weakening the body, make it more
susceptible to later diseases.
Both of these can be both short and long-term causes of disease.
Open almost any newspaper these days and you
will see reports of adverse effects from standard medical practice
in the doctor's or hospital's surgery. Nowadays, manufacturers are
required to list the possible expected side effects of drugs, but these
are the side effects that were discovered during drug trials or subsequently
in clinical practice.
(One should remember that manufacturers are
in an impossible situation, because there is no way that every possible
side effect for every single person can be listed. You and I might
take the same medication and notice effects different from one another
and from those listed by the manufacturers during research. The individual
response is what matters, and that is not possible to foretell: manufacturers
can only generalise. This means that it is possible to have a strong
but unlisted drug reaction.)
However, we are not talking about that
kind of wrong treatment here, but for example, the effect of dispersing
energy when there is already a deficiency, or reinforcing energy when
there exists too much already. In other words, receiving the wrong
treatment, including Chinese medical treatment.
is relatively safe. Even if a wrong treatment is done, it usually corrects
itself. But obviously, acupuncture should be carried out by trained individuals
who know what they are doing, as it is always possible to do harm if
one puts one's mind to it.
Herbs, the other main treatment method, can
cause more harm than acupuncture when incorrectly used. Again, the
same situation applies: go to someone with knowledge or experience,
who is unlikely to stimulate yang when he should be stimulating yin,
or vice versa.
However, Chinese herbal medicine is much more
gentle than Western and medical drugs. Even when the herbs are wrong,
given the range of warnings we give people, and the general advice,
it takes someone with unusual determination to continue taking something
when it is clearly making them feel worse. And when you stop taking
the herbs, the condition usually quickly reverts to the former status
quo, unlike the situation with drug medication.
are concerns about the effect of Chinese herbs, especially on the liver.
For a discussion of this, please see our section on Treatment with Herbs.
Internal Causes of Disease
Inter-reaction between mind, emotion
and body is intrinsic to understanding Chinese medicine. Mind, body
and emotion all affect each other, and none of them is seen as dominant,
from the point of view of deciding how disease enters and spreads,
although in any one case, one particular cause will usually predominate.
So physical problems can lead to mental conditions, emotional upsets
can lead to mental or physical conditions, and any condition can be
caused by, or cause, an emotion.
But emotions have more effect
on qi because all parts of the body, its energy, blood, bones, brain,
muscles, flesh, tendons, arteries and so on are all considered to be
different kinds of qi. Of particular importance to the smooth functioning
of the organism are the zang-fu, the Internal Organ energies, and it
is these which can get upset by emotional causes.
This is not to say
that we should avoid emotional expression: stifling or suppressing it
is another cause of disease. The problem comes when the emotion is too
strong for the organism, or too prolonged for its health. We can also
make ourselves emotional by thinking ourselves into it, by 'working ourselves
up into a lather', or by reading frightening stories, or watching something
that disturbs us. Late-night horror movies and videos come to mind!
This is not regarded as being conducive to good health.
Each emotion affects mainly a
particular zang Organ. It also affects qi. Traditionally there are
seven main emotions, but of course, there are more than this. For example,
envy isn't listed. This and other emotions affect one or more of the
zang, as follows:-
Anger upsets the Liver
and makes qi rise. If you are angry, your shoulders probably rise or
tense up, your face goes red, or you feel pressure in your head.
Joy, meaning hysterical
laughter, or over-excitement, especially if prolonged, upsets the Heart,
and makes qi slow down. People can be immobilised by prolonged hysterical
Fear upsets the Kidney
and makes qi descend. Involuntarily we urinate or have a bowel movement.
Grief or sadness,
and worry, upset the Lungs and dissolves qi: it tires us.
Worry, over-thinking, over-concern,
upset the Spleen and 'knot' the qi: we can't move for worry: it knots
us up inside.
Shock affects both the
Heart and the Kidney, and is said to scatter the qi. We 'go to pieces'.
of these emotions, if prolonged inappropriately, lead to stagnation of
Liver qi, and then turn into Fire, giving symptoms of 'heat'.
In addition to affecting a particular
zang, the emotion can spread to other zang-fu. Anger affects the Liver,
but the Liver, when not flowing correctly, affects in turn other organs.
People who express anger too freely often suffer from Stomach Fire
(eg gastric ulcer or heartburn) and those who suppress it may get gastro-intestinal
spasms, colic, spastic colon, irritable bowel etc..
External Causes of Disease
Chinese medicine considers that
many diseases start, or are exacerbated by, external causes of disease,
by which are meant environmental conditions. Mainly this means the
weather, but it includes exposure to drafts, air-conditioning, central
heating, dry air as found on long air-flights, humidity, heat from
working besides cookers or furnaces, working in refrigerators, and
damp working or living conditions. The traditional external conditions
are Wind, Summer-Heat, Fire, Damp, Dryness, Cold.
forces become effective in the body only if they are too strong for the
body's own energy to resist. Strong wind can 'penetrate' even a strong
body. A weak draft might be too much for someone recovering from illness,
or in a state of fatigue.
Although these are the external
factors leading to disease, the disease is defined in terms of the
body' reaction to it. So someone who got caught in a cold wind might
be expected to be suffering from Wind-Cold: but if their symptoms are
those of Wind-Heat, no matter what caused them, they have Wind-Heat.
Conversely, someone else might theoretically develop symptoms of Wind-Cold
from working beside a furnace!
External causes of disease enter
our bodies via the skin, the nose and the mouth. Most people would
accept that it is possible to catches illnesses via the nose: people
sneeze; we inhale. But through the mouth? Yet how often have we been
told to wash our hands after urinating and/or before eating. (You haven't?
Well, you have now!) And of course we can inhale through our mouths.
What about through the skin? The Chinese have a concept of what is called
defensive energy, which circulates just under the skin. This is weakened
somewhat when we perspire, because sweating opens the pores, and the
Chinese believe that Wind can penetrate through the skin, leading to
what in the West is called a 'chill': wind-cold or wind-heat! Also sitting
on damp ground or wearing wet clothes for too long lets damp 'penetrate'.
make a big difference to our susceptibility to external causes of disease.
In the West we aren't good at recognising how we should protect ourselves.
In a cold wind or Winter, a hat, scarf and warm clothes make sense, even
when nipping out for a sandwich at lunch.
Remember that our bodies don't
react as fast as our computer screens. It can take anywhere between
a few minutes and many hours before you begin to notice that you aren't
feeling well from invasion by an external pathogenic factor such as
cold or damp.
Finally, because we all have different
constitutions which react in their own individual ways to disease,
what starts off as one kind of externally caused disease pattern can
turn into another kind. Cold can turn to Heat, Heat can lead to Dryness,
and so on. So although the pattern is defined in external terms, (eg
Wind-Heat) it actually defines a reaction by the body which predetermines
the kind of treatment that will be effective. For a Wind-Heat pattern
we do this, for a Wind-Cold pattern we do that, etc..