Bit long for a facebook post, but a journalist recently asked me some questions about Chinese Medicine for an article she was commissioned to write for Puttiing on the LUX magazine. My answers were too long for her article as well.
Q: – Most people perceive conventional/western medicine as a quicker fix than most TCM techniques. You offer acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicine, massage and cupping. Can some of these have an immediate effect in some cases? What kind of symptoms/issues respond this quickly? And are some best experienced as a series of treatments that accumulate a result over time – what kind of issues need longterm assistance?
A: While many think that conventional medicine offers a quick fix for a problem but Chinese Medicine treatments are long-term, they are only thinking of things like taking an analgesic for an acute headache, or having a recent bacterial infection cleared by taking anti-biotics. But for a lot of chronic and debilitating conditions conventional medicine offers no quick fix but only life-long treatment. For example many people with diabetes, high blood cholesterol, heart conditions, and even gastric reflux are told that they will always need to take a medication.
Like conventional medicine, Chinese medicine gets quick results with acute conditions such as a new musculo-skeletal injury or a recently acquired cold or flu. Someone with acute back pain may recover with only one or two acupuncture treatments, and prompt Chinese medicine treatment at the first sign of a cold or flu often prevents more serious symptoms developing. But more long term conditions need more treatment. A general guide is that a person will need a month of treatment for each year that they have had a condition. Perhaps Chinese medicine has a reputation for taking longer to work because people only come to see us after they have suffered for some time.
Sometimes Chinese medicine may bring people with long-term conditions to a point where they feel they are healthy enough that treatment can be discontinued, and this may happen for conditions for which the alternative is life-long medication. Other times we can do no better than our conventional medicine colleagues and a patient may need continuing treatment to manage a chronic condition.
As well as the treatments practitioners give patients, the acupuncture, cupping, massage, and herbal medicine, Chinese medicine is also eating the right foods, trying to live a balanced life, and health maintenance practices such as taiqi, qigong, and yangshen. Together they combine over time to improve the lives of people with long-term conditions.
Q: In your opinion, why is TCM such an important medical system?
A: Chinese Medicine is important as it provides an alternative to people who are not helped by conventional medicine, or to people whose personal or religious beliefs lead them to seek natural cures. It, like other traditional medicines, is an important source of heterodox knowledge that may be important when orthodox approaches no longer work. For instance if increasing anti-biotic resistance means that new approaches to treating bacterial diseases should be examined, it could be that traditional approaches may provide knowledge that would have been lost if the traditional medicines had fallen into disuse. In a way it is like the collection of heritage seeds to provide alternatives to commercial mono-culture varieties if they become susceptible to disease or environmental change. We like to think that it is not just the medicines we use, but the way we diagnose and treat offers a useful alternative to conventional empirical and reductionist approaches.
Chinese medicine is also important as it is not just a historical record of traditional medicine practices, but a continuing practice. In China, Japan, and Korea it is an orthodox stream of contemporary medicine that is provided in State hospitals and treats millions of patients each year. With increasing Chinese influence in the West it will become more orthodox here, for example a TCM hospital costing 88 million euro is to be built in Barcelona, and Australia’s Free Trade Agreement allows guaranteed entry to Australia for up to 1800 Chinese TCM practitioners a year.
Q: What do your clients most appreciate about your clinic/treatments? What do you think most attracts the modern day professional to trying TCM?
A: A modern day professional comes to see us when they get no relief from conventional treatments, or when their own research leads them to believe that we offer something that could be effective. For the last few years many have sought TCM treatment that improves fertility, as their own research has convinced them that it is effective, particularly in enhancing the generally low success rates of IVF therapy.
And many people like the way we do medicine. We talk to people and find out how they feel. There are many fantastic conventional doctors in practice, and conventional medicine saves lives and relieves illness. But the reductionist approach is always to label a disease and treat it. We treat people, and people like that.
The Moxa Punk will often show people how they can keep themselves well. Here’s a video showing how to do Japanese rice grain moxibustion. Thanks to Michael Warren.
Join me in the cosy, ecologically friendly warmth of the Van Raay Centre at CERES to learn how to cup and scrape. We Chinese Medicine practitioners use these methods to treat a range of conditions, but historically they are folk medicine practices used by regular folk. So this workshop is intended to teach people who are not health professionals how to use these methods to keep themselves, their friends, and family well.
Come dressed so that you can expose your shoulders and upper back.
Just 16 places for this one, get in quick.
- When: Saturday July 1, 10am til 1pm.
- Where: CERES Environment Park, Van Raay Meeting Room 2.
- Price: $50
Germs don’t cause colds and flu, low immunity does.
How’s that for a controversial opening? A recent study has shown that only 23% of people infected by a flu virus display symptoms.* So while infection with a virus is necessary for viral illness, it isn’t sufficient alone to cause it. This means that the immune response to the infection is more important in determining whether someone gets sick or not, and makes low immunity more of a cause of illness than infection.
Anyone who travels by public transport, works in an office, or has kids will recognise that it is impossible to avoid exposure to cold and flu viruses, so it makes sense to boost your immunity to prevent illness rather than trying to avoid germs. This can be done by getting enough rest, eating healthy meals regularly, dressing to avoid cold exposure, and exercising sensibly. There’s more on how to do this here: How to stay healthy in winter.
Still more can be done by seeing a Chinese medicine practitioner for acupuncture, moxibustion, and herbal therapy, particularly if you’re feeling a bit run down already or if you tend to catch colds easily. We can use these therapies to improve your immunity and wellbeing – there’s even a 450 year old combination of herbs called Yu Ping Feng San 玉屏風散 or Jade Windscreen Powder designed to stop people catching colds and flus.
You could also try using moxibustion yourself to boost your immunity. Warming a point called Zu San Li with moxa can improve immunity, digestion and endurance, and relieve fatigue. There’s a video on how to do it here: How to do moxibustion.
* Reference: Dr Hayward, AC and 20 others on behalf of the Flu Watch Group. Comparative community burden and severity of seasonal and pandemic influenza: results of the Flu Watch cohort study. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. 2014; 2: 445-454
This is a qigong rehab exercise that I usually teach to clients with wrist or elbow problems. It is best done standing with feet about shoulder width apart and the knees bent, but it can also be done sitting. Relax the shoulders and draw your hands towards the chest with your palms facing you while breathing in and drawing the shoulder blades together gently. Then breathe out, let go of the shoulder blades, and extend the arms with the palms facing forwards and without forcing the movement, imagine pushing something heavy a long way away. Repeat as many times as you have time to do, 30 is a good number.
The low FODMAP diet relieves the symptoms of IBS, but for long term health the diet should only be temporary.
Most IBS sufferers would have heard of the low FODMAP diet. Many would have tried it. Limiting the consumption of difficult to digest carbohydrates helps many people relieve the symptoms of IBS and allow their intestines to heal. But while the low FODMAP diet was always intended to be a temporary measure to allow the gut to recover, many people understandably avoid the difficult process of reintroducing FODMAP foods into their diet. They should. The most important field in gastrointestinal research these days is the investigation of the microbiota or gut flora. It now seems that the poorly digestible carbohydrates that the low FODMAP diet proscribes are important for maintaining healthy gut flora, which can prevent or relieve an incredible range of illnesses from depression and obesity to arthritis. “Prebiotics” is b ecoming a buzz word, and it refers to a group of foods that largely overlaps with what is not allowed by a low FODMAP diet: onion, garlic, pulses, beans, dried fruit.
So if you’re someone who has become comfortable with a low FODMAP diet because it has got rid of the trials of having IBS, it’s time to start introducing the foods you’ve been avoiding. This should be done one food at a time, in small quantities at first, to see if it causes a recurrence of IBS symptoms. This may be best done under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist.
What has this got to do with Chinese medicine? Only that our overall outlook is that no food is essentially bad. Some foods are inappropriate for some people, some are in appropriate for people with a certain condition. But generally we try to make people healthy enough to eat a wide range of foods without unnecessary long-term restrictive diets.
A typical contemporary research article may be found here: Journal Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology Volume 8, 2014 – Issue 7
You can prevent migraines with acupuncture. A recent Cochrane review of the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment at preventing migraines found that the evidence suggests that a course of treatments can be a valuable option for people with migraines, and that it may be at least as effective as prophylactic drugs at preventing migraines.
Cochrane reviewers are very particular about what they will count as evidence, they would walk into walls if there wasn’t a large number of high standard clinical trials to tell them that they were there. So when they say that the evidence suggests something works, it means that it’s as obvious as being slapped in the face with a wet fish that it does.
The review is here: Acupuncture for preventing migraine attacks
I cooked mandarin peel chicken last night, so now I have an excuse to talk about mandarin peel, 陈皮 chen pi, as a medicinal. It improves digestion and stops metabolic activity from getting stuck. It also relieves some of the consequences of poor digestion, which can lead to dampness, which is a state of things being wetter than they should be and can manifest as bloating, feeling full, poor appetitie, or loose stools.
Chicken cooked with chen pi is delicious – the peel has a slight bitterness that prevents the sweetness from being cloying. The nourishing warming chicken together with moving, damp clearing chen pi strengthens the whole body.
Most Chinese supermarkets sell chen pi, or you can dry your own. I was lucky enough to get some that had been aged for ten years by Richard of Loving Earth that really made this meal special.
This is the recipe I worked with, but I used rice wine instead of wine rice.