“The way we diagnose a patient is different,” says Dr Lixiaoling, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at Chaslu Wellbeing Centre in Dubai. “We try and bring balance back into the body.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) goes back more than 2,000 years and its development has been influenced by the Japanese, Europeans and the Communist Revolution. It flourished till the early 1900s but slowly declined as the Western influence expanded.
According to Alternative and Complementary Medicine, when the Communists came to power, they encouraged traditional Chinese remedies as they were cheap and acceptable to the people at a time when there were practically no medical services available in the country.
Since its resurgence, the traditional approach to medicine became popular in the West in the 1970s when China opened up.
TCM uses various ways to diagnose a patient, Dr Lixiaoling points out. “We look at the colour of the eyes. If yellow, then we know it’s a liver problem. If blackish, it’s a kidney problem. Dark circles under the eyes indicate high blood pressure or high cholesterol,” she says.
Checking the tongue is also an important diagnostic tool in TCM, she says. “If the tongue is yellow, there could be a problem with the stomach, liver or the heart. If there is a white coating on the tongue then the patients could be suffering from low back pain and so on.”
The pulse too is a vital element in TCM to determine illnesses. It is checked using three fingers. The first finger checks the heart, the second the liver and the third, the kidney.
The pulse of the right hand is also taken again with three fingers: The first finger checks the spleen, the second the lungs and the third, the kidney again.
While regular doctors will locate one pulse on the radial artery, a TCM practitioner feels six pulses in each wrist: three superficial and three deep at specific points along the radial artery. As Dr Lixiaoling explains, the deep pulse on the left wrist corresponds from the top to bottom, to the heart, liver and kidney.
The Chinese believe that in addition to the pulse, the tongue shows the state of the person’s health. A very red tongue apparently indicates a fever or inflammation and points to an excessive internal heat or damp condition. A white tongue indicates deficiency of energy, blood or moisture.
TCM treats the root cause of the illness, not just the illness. It is holistic in approach.
Before diagnosing a patient, the doctor asks extensive questions about the patient’s complaint. The practitioner will ask about the quality of sleep, appetite, preferred foods and stress.
TCM practitioners employ the eight guiding principles to analyse the energy imbalances in the body and the nature of a patient’s condition. These principles include four polar opposites: Yin/Yang, Cold/Heat, Deficiency (XU)/Excess (SHI) and Interior/Exterior.
Yin/Yang: In Chinese medicine, every organism has both Yin and Yang qualities and balance of the two is necessary for good health. Yin energy is associated with cold, female energy and represents the solid organs. Yang is associated with hot, male energy and represents hollow organs. Chronic illness is seen as Yin and acute illness is seen as Yang.
Cold/Heat: This determines the energy of the patient. A cold condition marked by slow metabolism, pale skin, chills and low-grade fever. A hot condition by a heightened metabolism, sensations of heat in the body, high fever and flushed complexion.
Deficiency/Excess: A deficient condition would be viewed as lack of blood (anaemia), energy (Qi or Chi), heat, or fluids and as chronic illness. Excess condition means that the body has too much of something: Qi or blood. An acute condition would be seen as an excess condition.
Interior/Exterior: Describes symptoms in terms of the location of the patient’s problem. These are caused by invasion of the body by pathogens. The symptoms affect the hair, skin, muscles, blood vessels. Interior symptoms affect the organs, deep vessels, nerves, brain spinal cord and bones.
Dr Lixiaoling explains that there are 361 pressure points in our body. And certain points can be pricked with a thin needle to alleviate pain such as pain in the lower back or shoulder pain and clear the channels.
Acupuncture: This method of treatment is the insertion of needles into the skin at specific points in order to affect the flow of energy. Acupuncture is associated with TCM, but the Japanese and Korans have developed their own form of acupuncture with modifications as needle-less acupuncture.
The insertion of needles is aimed at improving the flow of Qi, which is said to regulate the body’s spiritual, mental and physical balance. There are 12 major meridians running through the body, and it is over this network that Qi travels and the body’s various organs send messages to one another. For this reason, keeping the meridians clear is imperative for the body’s self-regulating actions to occur.
Chinese herbs: Dr Lixiaolin points out that there are 13,000 various herbal medicines for ailments ranging from the poor functioning of the liver, depression to heart disease, skin problems and high cholesterol.
For diabetes, she recommends Yilouhe green herbal tea which is made from fenugreek, bitter melon and bees wax. It is claimed to help reduce blood sugar levels and boosts the immune system.
Chinese herbs are derived from plant, animal and mineral substances. While plant-derived herbs such as ginseng and ginger are the most common, mineral and animal parts as oyster shells, deer antlers and bear gall bladder are also prescribed.
In TCM, herbs in powder form are boiled and made into a tea.