What's the difference between Western & Chinese Herbalism?
Western herbalism comes from European folk medicine. Today by using modern medical theory it can often effectively treat symptoms such as headaches, runny nose, menstrual pain, etc in a similar way to pharmaceutical drugs.
CHM is based on an understanding of the underlying ways that body functions break down in ill health as well as the obvious symptom and addresses these root changes so that patients experience lasting changes in general well-being.
TCM patients receive a custom made prescription designed to treat both the symptoms and also their underlying pattern of imbalance.
This TCM pattern is made up of signs and symptoms as well as emotional temperament and bodily constitution. Chinese herbalists believe that this enables them to address the deeper causes of most health problems and so have a more lasting and profound positive effect on the patient's health.Herbs from the Chinese tradition are sometimes used by western herbalists but this should not be confused with authentic Chinese medicine - the traditional Chinese diagnostic system is a key part of the definition of CHM. Its distinctive systematic and holistic approach to understanding health and disease is its great strength.
Chinese medicine -by far the most evidence-based alternative to modern biomedicine
China's national health service treats about 230 million patients each year using traditional Chinese medicine
How does it work?
Modern medicine is clever in its use of technology and this has led to many valuable breakthroughs. Often though, it lacks wisdom because the things it measures and treats often do not relate to real people as a whole. Patients may be told “all the tests are normal” but they know something has been missed because they still feel unwell! Chinese medicine is very much older than modern medicine, it is rooted in what the patient feels and says - not what you measure with equipment. In this sense it is more real - it understands the human condition in health and disease. It's value is in its long experience of the human condition – it has real clinical wisdom. Reading and interpreting every clue from the body, it arrives at a diagnosis in its own traditional terms – put broadly it works by re-establishing balance and harmony within the body. This means balance between all our regulatory functions, excessive activity and under-activity, body strength and weakness and various types of toxicity, looking at blood and energy flow and stagnation, distinguishing heat and coldness, etc. Thus CM has its own terminology and diagnostic system to understand and treat illness and maintain health.
Balance is re-established by supporting the body's healthy energy and eliminating any unhealthy or disease-related states such as infections or phlegm. Once balance is established TCM offers preventative help to maintain health.This is the ideal.
As one Chinese doctor put it, “Western medicine puts an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, Chinese medicine puts a fence at the top!” An ancient textbook from 200 BC put it another way, to start digging a well when you are already thirsty, to cast weapons when you are already under attack, to treat people when they are already sick, are these actions not all too late?
The preservation of health has always been a key part of Chinese medicine.
How do you determine what is out of balance?
Four core methods are used to survey your body.
The first is questioning about signs and symptoms, and their history.
The second is observation - of your facial complexion, general body condition, the condition of your skin, etc. We look too at your tongue and its coating as this is said to be the only internal organ visible from the outside. This is the kind of knowing observation that vets use to assess an animal. We may say to people “you don’t look well!” but we don't have a way of interpreting that information. Chinese medicine does. So, for instance, the facial pallor of a person with blood deficiency differs from that due to qi-energy deficiency. It is possible to make sense of the body’s signals and readout.
The third diagnostic method is listening and smelling, we listen to your voice and the sound of your breathing as well as interpreting any odours emanating from the body or excretions. This method is also about sensing in a more abstract way.
Fourthly is palpating various areas of the body and especially the pulse at both wrists.
We call these the four diagnostic methods – every piece of information that may be relevant is evaluated and included into the picture. Subtlety and long experience is used in place of technology. By combining of your signs and symptoms, tongue diagnosis, and pulse diagnosis, we can diagnose the pattern of disharmony, which requires correcting.
This is different to a disease or a symptom; it is a shorthand report on the underlying body condition behind the illness. It is worded in CM’s formal technical language which can sound odd to many people in the West. All specialist languages are hard to translate into normal language and seem strange to the uninitiated – modern medicine’s included.
In our experience, (on a quarter of the world’s population for the last 2,500 years!), if the pattern of disharmony is successfully treated not only does your main complaint resolve but your overall mental and physical health improves. This medicine aim is for you to get better and stay better.
How is this rebalancing accomplished?
If something is too hot (e.g. fevers) we cool it down. If it's too cool, we warm it up. If something is too wet (e.g. weeping forms of eczema) we aim to dry it, and if it's too dry (e.g. dry eyes), we moisten. If something is over-active we make it less, if something is lacking (anaemia or low energy for example) we build it back up. If something is stuck, (e.g. the bowels) we aim to move it, and if something is flowing inappropriately (e.g. vomiting) we help it flow in the right direction. This sensible and logical system was established before the dawn of recorded history and has been continuously refined ever since. This is not a religious belief system or metaphysics but the serious practical business of relieving pain and suffering by sensible means.
Today this same system is used by millions of practitioners on hundreds of millions of people every year. No other form of complementary medicine can match this record of use or offers such a complete and logical approach to healthcare. No other form of medicine has been so fully tested clinically on real people.