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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) - Basic Principles

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) - Basic Principles

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Published by Maor Lain

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Published by: Maor Lain on Dec 07, 2011
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Questions about Taking Chinese Herbs
Q : How does TCM apply the Five Element Theory in tonifying or reducingtherapies?
According to the
,all things can be divided into five elements (metal,wood, water, fire and earth). Our body's
 (heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney)correspond to the five elements based on their biological special natures.TCM makes use of these relationships to treat diseases of the organs in tonifying or reducingtherapies.
Figure 1.
This cycle shows how the fiveelements produce one another
Figure 2.
This cycle shows how the five organspromote one another
Index: Generates
In case of  
, besides tonifying the deficient organ, it is necessary to tonify itscounter-generation partner in order to speed up the recovery. For example, in treating liver (wood)deficiency, water generates wood, so physicians will also tonify the kidney (water) to reinforcetreatment.In case of  
, besides reducing the particular organ, it is also necessary to reduceits generation partner in order to depress the excitatory conditions. For example, in treatingexcessive fire in the liver (wood), wood generates fire, so physicians will also reduce the heart (fire)so as to relieve the excessive fire indirectly.Top
Q : What is the most common form of Chinese medicine?
The most common form is liquid decoction. Chinese herbal decoctions are characterized by their quick absorption, favorable therapeutic outcomes and minimal toxic side effects. The ingredients inthe decoctions can be modified, increased or decreased on a daily basis, allowing physicians totailor to the patient's changing conditions and needs. Flexibility is one of the main reasons why thismethod is still being used after thousands of years.Top
Q : What is the proper way to make a herbal decoction?
Just like cooking, it is important to follow the proper steps. Incorrect preparation may impact onthe intended effects.A ceramic clay or crockery pot with a lid works best; however, an enamel or glass pot can also beused. Iron, aluminium and copper pots should be avoided because chemical interaction can occur and affect the original nature of the ingredients.Uncontaminated cool water is best. Physicians may recommend using rice wine or a combination of water and wine for certain types of decoctions.Add water until the herbs are lightly submerged; soak for 20-30 minutes so the effective contentscan be easily extracted when boiled. Bring to a boil quickly and then turn the heat down as requiredfor the time given.The specific time and heat used in preparing your decoction are determined by the properties andnature of the ingredients. Generally, cold and flu or purgative decoctions are boiled on high heat for 20-30 minutes. Tonic or other decoctions that contain rich sticky substances are decocted for alonger time (approximately one hour) with mild heat and more water. In order to achieve the bestresults, your physician should clarify what type of decoction you are preparing, the appropriateamount of water that should be used and how long it should be boiled.The herbal compounds and the liquids are commonly boiled down to one glass or 250ml. Then itshould be filtered into a container while straining the dregs. If the decocted herbal ingredients areoverheated or burnt, the whole decoction should be discarded because damaged ingredients canproduce undesirable effects.Certain ingredients must be treated differently due to their special properties. If they are in your prescription, the ingredients are usually packed separately. For example, shells and minerals haveto be smashed and decocted first; volatile and aromatic substances like peppermint and Amomumfruits are added near the end and are cooked for 5 minutes only. Substances like Biond Magnoliaflower and Plantain seed must be wrapped in gauze, because they make the decoction turbid or irritate the throat. Expensive substances such as deer horn and ginseng are sliced and boiledseparately, so that their active ingredients are not affected by other herbs. Their decoctions caneither be taken together with other decoctions or drunk separately. Some colloid ingredients likehoney or malt sugar should be melted into the warm finished decoction directly. Some rare aromaticsubstances like musk are ground into powder and taken with a decoction or lukewarm water.If preparing your own decoction seems like a daunting task, many herbal shops and physicians canprovide this service when asked.Top
Q : Can Chinese medicine be boiled twice?
Sometimes the same set of ingredients can be boiled twice. When decocting for a second time,less water (approximately 500ml) is used or just enough to cover the surface of the ingredients. Thetwo glasses of liquid that are obtained from both procedures are then mixed together; consume onein the morning and the other in the evening.Medicinal materials that have a strong flavor and those with tonifying effect can usually be re-boiled.
In order to extract most of the active ingredients, it is suggested to scoop out the medicinal residuesand wrap them with a piece cloth and squeeze out the liquid, so as to fully utilize the activeingredients and not to let them get to waste. Medicine for treating influenza, for example, is notsuitable for re-boiling. This is because the active ingredients of this medicine like peppermint andAmomum fruits can easily evaporate. If you "over cook" your decoction, it is best not to drink it as thechemical nature of the medicine has probably been altered.Top
Q : Can you explain what toxicity in Chinese Medicine means?
Traditionally, Chinese medicines are divided into three categories: those with heavy toxicity,minor toxicity and no toxicity. According to Chinese medicinal pharmacology, serious toxic effectsare coma, nausea, numbness in the mouth and in the limbs, which can be easily induced by drugssuch as dried toad venom, unprocessed croton fruits and cinnabar. Medicines with minor toxicity likeapricot seeds and ginkgo nuts, if used in high dosages, can cause mild breathing difficulties,abnormal heartbeat and dizziness. Drugs without toxicity, i.e., commonly used ingredients, are mildin nature and are less likely to have side effects. However, most TCMs are safe if applied accordingto syndrome differentiation and with the correct dosage for the appropriate length of time.Top
Q : Can TCM be used incorrectly?
The most outstanding characteristic of TCM is diagnosis and treatment based on
. When the syndrome of a specific disease is determined, the appropriate medicinewill be prescribed. For example, in the treatment of gastroptosis (abnormal drooping of the stomach),drugs that have elevation properties would be used and drugs that have a descending effect wouldbe avoided. If the 
and the nature of disease are not clearly understood andmedicine is applied randomly, the disease may be aggravated or lead to other health problems.Some Chinese medicines are extremely strong and contain toxic ingredients. If the dosage isinappropriate or consumed incorrectly by mistake, it could lead to poisoning and even death. 
declared in 1996 that there are 31 types of potent/toxicChinese herbal medicines. Always obtain prescriptions from a registered TCM doctor and follow their advice regarding preparation. If poisoning occurs, seek medical help as soon as possible.Top
Q : What is the best way to choose a proprietary Chinese medicine?
When choosing a proprietary Chinese medicine, it is important that the chosen medicine issuitable for your particular health need, so one should always read the
 carefully. In addition,although different medicines contain the same herbal ingredients, one should always buy a productmade by a reputable manufacturer. As preparation of Chinese herbal products rely on special skills,a difference in manufacturing can have subtle differences in effects. The best way is to seek advicefrom medical professionals or the manufacturers of the medicine before taking the medicine. (See"

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